Published October 11. 2013 7:00AM Updated October 11. 2013 7:16AM
Dr. William A. Petit, Jr., the lone survivor of the Cheshire home invasion in 2007 in which his wife and two daughters were killed, is being wooed by Republican leaders to run for Congress in the 5th District.
State Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola confirmed Thursday the talks with Petit and said that he has had "informal discussions with prospective candidates on a regular basis." He declined to comment on how far discussions with Petit have gone.
In recent months, Petit, who lives in Burlington, has been meeting with state and national Republicans to discuss challenging U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, the Cheshire Democrat who won the seat in 2012.
Some Republican leaders say privately that they are uncomfortable with nominating Mark Greenberg, a conservative Litchfield Republican who failed to win the nomination in 2010. Although Greenberg has already declared that he is running again, Petit is felt to be a highly appealing alternative who would immediately energize the race.
"He certainly has a lot of what people are looking for. He's got strong ideals and he's not afraid to stand up for them,'' said Farmington Republican Town Committee Chairman Mike Clark, who ran unsuccessfully for the 5th District seat in 2012.
"He's lived through hell and back," said Clark, who met Petit at a race to raise money for the Petit Family Foundation. "He's obviously got tremendous internal strength."
Petit could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Republican sources say that Petit was shocked by how early the election cycle begins for congressional races, especially for a challenger trying to unseat a Democratic incumbent in a "blue" state. With just 13 months until Election Day, the window for a run is closing fast. Representatives from the National Republican Congressional Committee flew to Connecticut recently to meet with Petit, but those close to him say he remains undecided.
Petit, who has never run for office before, would be entering a high-profile and expensive race certain to be in the national spotlight.
"He'll have to take positions on topics he hasn't really thought a lot about before. â?¦ It's getting down to crunch time,'' Clark said. "Until you do it, you don't realize how much groundwork has to be laid and how much money has to be raised ... it's a lot of dough."
A familiar face at the state Capitol, Petit has lobbied against the repeal of the state's death penalty. Last year he remarried, and the couple is expecting a baby later this year.
Petit has devoted much of his time in recent years to building the Petit Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that has distributed more than $1 million to causes supported by his wife and daughters. It also supports victims of violence.
"Because you are gone, it now falls to me to be the change you wanted to see in the world," Petit said last year at a memorial concert for his wife and daughters.
This summer, after the sixth anniversary of the murder of his family, Petit promised to continue their legacy.
"If there is anything to be gained from the senseless deaths of my beautiful family," Petit said recently, "it is to live with a faith that embodies action: Help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family, go forward and spread the work of these three wonderful, beautiful women."
On July 23, 2007, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky broke into the Cheshire home of the Petit family. William Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and left to die in the basement.
Hayes raped and strangled Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit. Their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, died of smoke inhalation after they were doused with gasoline and the house was set on fire. William Petit managed to escape.
Petit became a strong advocate in support of maintaining the state's death penalty, making frequent appearances at the state Capitol to testify against repeal.
Former state Republican Chairman Chris Healy, who is close to Petit, said he could not objectively assess him as a candidate because "I think the world of the guy."
"He's very well-versed on many issues, his family has a rich history of public service and elective politics,'' Healy said. "It remains to be seen if this is where he wants to take his life."
Petit's father, Bill Petit Sr., who ran a group of grocery stores in Plainville and Bristol, has dabbled in politics at the state and local levels. He ran for state Senate and serves on the Republican state central committee. William Petit's sister, Johanna Petit Chapman, is also involved with local politics in Plainville.
Petit's entry into the race, should it occur, wouldn't change Greenberg's approach, said his campaign manager, Bill Evans. Greenberg has been campaigning for months and has lined up the support of dozens of key Republicans in the district.
"We're going to stick with our strategy of reaching out to the town committees and the voters,'' Evans said.