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Madison - Daria Novak is an unabashed far-right conservative Republican running for Congress in a deep-blue state where all five incumbents are Democrats.
She faces long odds in the 2nd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney has triumphed by double-digit margins in his re-election contests.
Her opponent in the Aug. 14 primary, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, is the convention-endorsed Republican and a self-described moderate with high popularity in a Democratic-leaning town. His campaign hopes to erode Courtney's support by appealing to the district's many unaffiliated voters.
Novak, 55, believes Formica has his strategy wrong. To upset Courtney, she says, Republicans need a candidate like her, someone significantly different from the Democrat, to give voters a clear choice on the November ballot. As she puts it, "Republican-lite" hasn't been winning elections lately in the 2nd District.
"When (Republicans) come out with a moderate stance, they're losing. Look at the 2010 election. We had a moderate running, and she lost," Novak said last week in an interview in her campaign headquarters. "People are saying enough is enough. It's time that we changed Washington. And we can't just do a little bit of reform. We need a complete overhaul."
Novak's vision for America is very different from Courtney's.
She would consider eliminating multiple federal agencies, including the education and energy departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. She wants sharp and immediate spending reductions, a repeal of the national health care law, an elimination of the estate tax and an extension of all Bush-era tax cuts for high earners.
Novak also supports a return to the gold standard and making abortion illegal. She questions whether President Obama was ever eligible for the presidency - "I don't think anything's been proven one way or the other," she said - and she doubts that human activity is responsible for global climate change.
"I believe climate change for the most part is natural," she said. "They have yet to explain why the same percentage change is occurring on other planets where there are no humans and no cars and no factories, on planets like Mars."
This is Novak's second run for Congress. She won the state Republican convention endorsement during her 2010 campaign but lost the three-way primary that year to former newscaster Janet Peckinpaugh. Peckinpaugh went on to lose to Courtney by 21 percentage points.
No career politician
Novak is the only candidate in this year's race to have never held elected office. She considers that a strength.
"Career politicians I think are the problem," she said. "We saw Joe Courtney go into Hartford as a state legislator and vote in favor of a state income tax, and he hasn't stopped voting for big spending programs since."
However, Formica believes that Novak's lack of experience is a weakness.
"We need to stop sending people up against Joe Courtney who have had no elected experience, no governmental leadership experience, and no depth of knowledge of business," he said.
Formica also disputes Novak's claims that she has stronger name recognition that positions her as "the frontrunner" in next month's primary. He considers her the "far-right fringe candidate."
"To win, we need to appeal to a broad section of (voters)," Formica said Friday. "Not just one section, not just the far right. We need to reach into Joe Courtney's pocket and pull out votes."
But Novak contends that her message has become mainstream. "The reality is the people of the 2nd District are tired of what Joe Courtney is doing to them, not for them," she said. "We have Democrats supporting us because people have said enough is enough."
Courtney's campaign manager, Emma Pietrantonio, took issue with Novak's assessments.
"In addition to supporting the Budget Control Act - which will reduce federal budget deficits by at least $2.1 trillion over the next decade - and pay-as-you-go rules that House Republicans have eliminated, Congressman Courtney has a strong record of supporting policies and programs that have bolstered our region's manufacturing sector and industrial base," she said in a statement.
Novak lives in Madison and grew up in Westport. Her father, Joseph Novak Jr., was a foreign service officer. Her mother, Irene Novak, was active in Fairfield County Republican politics and was appointed by Gov. Thomas Meskill in the early 1970s to the state Higher Education Commission.
Daria Novak graduated from the University of Wyoming and received a master's degree in political science from the University of Southern California. She can speak Chinese, and during the 1980s worked in the U.S. State Department as an Asia specialist, among other assignments.
She later founded a consulting business, ERUdyne, now run by her sister and campaign manager, Suzanne Novak. Daria Novak has taken a leave from the company to campaign full-time.
Novak is divorced and with her two children, now teenagers, moved back to Connecticut in 2001. "I wanted them brought up in the sense of church and family and community - all the good things that you don't have in the D.C. area," she said.
Novak is a known conservative voice with a Tea Party following. She is co-host for a weekly radio show, "Conservative Commandos," that broadcasts in New Jersey and Philadelphia but doesn't quite reach eastern Connecticut. Local listeners can tune in via the Internet.
Novak has been campaigning at senior centers, parades, agricultural fairs and "walking around streets, talking to people and shaking hands." She counts nearly 200 campaign volunteers in the district's 64 towns.
Earlier this year, the AOL-owned local news site Patch.com revoked her blogging privileges on the site, citing plagiarism as the reason. Novak admitted that she used other writers' work in her blog but blames the site's editors for discouraging her from lengthy source citations that would clutter her posts.
Clinton resident Ron Nash, 60, said he is supporting Novak in the primary partly because of her strong grasp of national issues. He said he chatted with Formica several weeks ago at a Republican fundraising event and wasn't impressed.
"He's a nice enough guy and all that, and maybe he's a fine first selectman," Nash said. "But in the entire 15 or 20 minutes I spoke to him, he never mentioned a national issue, and that's not suitable for a national office."
If elected, Novak would be only the second woman since Democrat Chase Going Woodhouse, in the 1940s and early 1950s, to represent the district, and the first female Republican.
The latest finance reports showed Novak with just $3,045 cash on hand as of June 30. In comparison, Formica had about $26,300 and Courtney reported just over $926,100.
So the Novak campaign is learning how to stretch a dollar. She is especially pleased with the rent deal they struck for their headquarters on the ground floor of a handsome office building.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we negotiated and got it 80 percent off," Novak said. "I look at it this way - I live and breathe saving money, so I'm determined to do that for the people of the 2nd District when I go to D.C., too."