Saturday, August 07, 2010

Connecticut U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Connecticut U.S. Senate

August 7, 2010
87 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

Connecticut is one of the country's most reliable Democrat states on the federal level and Senator Christopher Dodd has been one of the longest serving and most powerful members of that party. As the 2008 Presidential candidate returned to the Senate, he found himself in a swirl of controversy and bad press over his role as Senate Banking Chairman and the financial industry meltdown and also in regards to some personal favors that appeared to have been given him by a mortgage company.

Dodd appeared intent on seeking another term, but amazingly enough, polls showed that he looked like a loser on Election Day and that Connecticut could elect its first Republican Senator in quite some time. Thus, it was a relief to the White House and Senate Democrats when early this year, Dodd announced he would be retiring for the Senate.

Democrats were even happier when the state's popular Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, entered the race and became the instant frontrunner. Suddenly, the Republican field of the three major candidates at the time of Dodd's announcement faced a more difficult task. In addition to financial analyst Peter Schiff, a favorite of Ron Paul admiring libertarians, and wealthy World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, who also had served on the State Board of Education, the most promising Republican looked like former Congressman Rob Simmons, who had been popular in a Democrat leaning district before being defeated in the tough GOP year of 2006. More recently, he served in the capacity of the state's Business Advocate.

The polls instantly showed Blumenthal with a wide lead over all Republicans. Furthermore, McMahon's self financing made her much more of a threat to Simmons, who started to slip in the GOP primary as well. After McMahon narrowly captured the State GOP endorsement at a convention, Simmons suspended his campaign and it appeared that the wife of the infamous WWE "boss" Vince McMahon would be the GOP candidate for Senate.

While successful in the business world and able to self-fund, McMahon is a candidate with quite an unorthodox background to say the least. For one thing, as her entire family has participated at times in the wrestling soap opera, she has in the past stepped into the squared circle and at least one occasion kicked a male wrestler in the groin. Former Congressman Jim Traficant of Ohio would be proud, as he has often threatened to do that to those opposing him. Additionally, if nominated in the state's Tuesday primary, she will probably have to face additional questions about her company's history with illegal steroid use. Her critics also point to some past associations with Democrats as proof that she is not a "real Republican."

Before Blumenthal was formally endorsed by his party, the race took another dramatic turn. Videos surfaced of the Attorney General seeming to indicate he served in Vietnam during that conflict, when in fact, he only served stateside. For a couple of days, it looked like the controversy of what Blumenthal excused as mere misstatements could drive him from the race, and there was even talk about how it might be better for Democrats if Dodd jumped in. While Blumenthal's formidable political profile took a bit of a hit, it never materialized into anything all that serious for him in the polls, as he was able to maintain his lead. The issue might arise again in the fall campaign, but he appears to have wethered the storm.

Just as it appeared that a Blumenthal vs. McMahon race was inevitable, rumblings began that Simmons was poised to get back into the race. While he is considerably behind McMahon in campaign cash and support, many Republicans still believe that the former Congressman (who unlike Blumenthal actually did serve in Vietnam in quite a distinguished manner) would be the strongest candidate. While not actively campaigning in a traditional sense, Simmons is reminding Republican voters that he wants their votes on Tuesday.

If he really was committed to the race, Simmons' decision to suspend his campaign probably did not make much sense. At this point, he will find it very difficult to defeat McMahon in the primary, though some attacks being thrown at her by Schiff, might leave an opening. While Blumenthal continues to lead all Republicans by double digits in polls from Quinnipiac University and Rasmussen Reports, a poll out the past week from Quinnipiac opened some eyes by showing McMahon had made up considerable ground in a short amount of time and only trailed 50-40.

We will have to wait to see if any other polls back up that movement once the nominees are formally chosen on Tuesday. As mentioned, I think McMahon will probably take the GOP contest and her willingness to spend up to $50 million of her personal fortune could be a very good thing for Republicans, but the latest poll aside, I think it will be tough to defeat Blumenthal in a state like Connecticut and that more fertile ground exists for Republicans elsewhere. I also think that despite everything, Simmons would ultimately be the strongest GOP candidate, if Blumenthal's campaign does wind up resembling that of Martha Coakley in a special Massachusetts Senate election. So, while it might be purely symbolic at this point, if I lived in Connecticut, I would most likely cast a vote on Tuesday for Simmons, based on personal conscience.

The odds on favorite to go to Washington from the state is Mr. Blumenthal, but if lighting strikes, we can imagine a day when Mrs. McMahon might be in position to deliver a kick to the crotch of her colleague Al Franken.

Simmons campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 2 D, 5 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 42 D, 28 R