Commentary: A Senate Race Like No Other

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    NEWSLETTERS

    "Can't anybody play this here game?", was the refrain from Hall of Fame Manager Casey Stengel as he watched his hapless New York Mets once again steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

    If the Old Professor, as he was known, were looking at the current race for the Untied States Senate in Connecticut he most surely would offer much the same conclusion.

    Not since 1970 when incumbent Democrat Thomas Dodd failed to get his party’s nomination has there been so much gnashing of teeth and confusion for a United States Senate race. In 1970 it was the Democrats that went to the August primary with three names on the ballot. It is ironic that 40 years hence the Republican Party is going into their August primary with three names on the ballot to fill the seat being vacated by Tom Dodd’s son Senator Chris Dodd.

    With 40 years to plan for this great opportunity one would assume that the GOP would be ready with a game plan and candidate to win the U.S. Senate seat. Well, you would be wrong. Of course the last time the GOP won a senate race here in Connecticut they had to do it with the man most Republicans love to hate, Lowell Weicker.

    With only a few weeks to go before the primary none of the Republican candidates has shown much in the way of leadership, campaign skills or given voters a reason to switch from the left side of the political menu to the right.

    Peter Schiff, Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon are the Republican protagonists in this fight to August. Thus far their collective greatest advantage has been their opponent, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. His campaign is running neck and neck with all three Republicans in the snooze factor. Not to mention a campaign strategy and message that begins and ends with "I’m going to continue to work hard for the people of the state of Connecticut".

    Mr. Blumenthal has been a dedicated public servant his entire life. It is no secret that much like the Republican Party he has longed for the day where he could join the prestigious club of the Untied States Senate. It boggles the mind that with so much time to prepare his campaign, like the Republicans, he is making more errors and looking as hapless as the ’64 Mets.

    Just two examples should give voters pause before promoting this man from the AG’s office to the Senate. One, it was revealed by the New York Times and the McMahon campaign that Mr. Blumenthal had on several occasions lied about his service in Vietnam. To which Mr. Blumenthal’s campaign decided to highlight his military bona fides, which he does not have, by having a mea culpa press conference at a VFW hall. Huh? The AG is still trying to clean himself off from that disaster.

    Second, the man who for 20 years in the office of Attorney General used the media as his own personal message machine has gone silent. The strategy by the very smart "consultants" is to sit on your lead. Bad move. It shows little leadership and worse in today’s 24/7 news cycle a lead of even 30 points is not safe. (Just ask Republican Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate race. In two months he went from 30 points up on now Independent Governor Charlie Christ to 5 points down.) Mr. Blumenthal leads his Republican challengers on average by about 20 points.

    Democrats and Connecticut voters deserve more from Richard Blumenthal than a bunker strategy.

    Peter Schiff’s quixotic campaign is really a national effort at promoting Libertarian values and some very conservative fiscal policies. There is no question that Mr. Schiff knows his stuff when it comes to macroeconomics. And he will remind you often that he predicted much of the economic collapse we are muddling through right now. But many of Mr. Schiff’s positions don’t square with the GOP. He is seems to be pro choice, against the war in Iraq and appears to call for more school and infrastructure construction, but that is unclear. Many of his positions are, well, foggy.

    What is crystal clear is Mr. Schiff doesn’t understand that to be an elected politician you must first be, a politician. That means kissing babies, shaking hands and eating bad chicken in firehouses 6 nights a week. Mr. Schiff has demurred from that.

    The front-runner when Chris Dodd was still in the mix was former Congressman Rob Simmons. As soon as Dodd left the race the Simmons campaign became rudderless. There was no plan for post Dodd, no plan for Linda McMahon—except the WWE is a horrible business---no idea that they would lose the convention and no plan after the convention should they lose. The campaign strategy seems to be the no plan plan. Although Mr. Simmons appears to have re-entered the race in the final weeks it is all but certain that he will sputter to a sad and ignominious end on August 10.

    Remarkable really. Rob Simmons has a distinguished 40-year career of dedicated public service. You’d never know it. Not one ad, flyer or even editorial by him or his team highlighting that unlike his opponents, Republican and Democrat, Mr. Simmons actually fought in Vietnam, voted against the Connecticut income tax, voted against the Patriots stadium and led the fight to save the Groton Sub Base along with 31 thousands jobs and $4 billion in revenue to the state. There are many other accomplishments such as beating incumbent Democrats. Mr. Simmons was tarred with being an insider. Guilty as charged. But the record shows he was an insider who got it done.

    When you spend $20 million you expect results. To date Linda McMahon has seen little. Since January she has increased her percentage versus Mr. Blumenthal by 14 points from 23 to 37 percent. All this is an open field with very little opposing electronic media to blunt the Linda onslaught. During the same period by comparison, Mr. Simmons gained 8 points and Mr. Schiff 12 points. But when a campaign spends more on Tote bags than the Blumenthal campaign did for their campaign manager things have gotten out of hand at the Linda money trough.

    The reality of all this is that the next Senator from Connecticut will be Mrs. McMahon. The Blumenthal campaign and others will bash away at Mrs. McMahon’s business the WWE. It is a losing strategy. The facts are this. The reason Linda has so much money is because millions of people, voters, like the WWE. Further, the McMahons got their money the old fashioned way, they earned it.

    Linda will win the primary and then go head to head with Mr. Blumenthal. Problem is neither of them wants to speak without layers of handlers, prepared questions and a totally controlled environment. Advantage Linda. Her campaign will savage Mr. Blumenthal over his record by turning good to bad and day to night. The McMahon message machine will unleash on the Blumenthal campaign a deluge akin to the ferocity and regularity of the waves at Waimea Bay.

    Sadly though on November third Mrs. McMahon will become what all her supporters despise, an insider.

    She will be Senator-elect Linda McMahon. And as such her job will be to bring back the bacon from Washington for things like roads, saving sub bases, new train stations, energy grants, waivers for health care programs and getting that all important social security check that Mrs. Jones in Bozrah will call about. To get all that done Linda will need to be an insider and quick.

    Linda’s campaign slogan is "Its Time for Something Different". Perhaps it is her intention to not lobby for federal largess, admit we don’t really need submarines in a post cold war environment, and well, Mrs. Jones will just have to wait.

    If Senator McMahon does all that it surely will be "something different" and a Senator worth your vote.

     

    *Ben Davol, a veteran of numerous local, state and federal campaigns for both Republican and Democratic candidates.  He is now a freelance writer and a registered independent.  He will be writing for NBCConnecticut.com during the campaign season.