Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Connecticut U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Connecticut U.S. Senate

July 31, 2012
98 Days Until Election Day

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

Outlook: Likely Democrat

While current polling shows a potentially close race in the Nutmeg State for an open Senate seat, the political dynamics of the state lead me to believe that the numbers will not be too tight at the end and that Republicans have far more favorable pick-up opportunities elsewhere.

The seat is being vacated by Joe Lieberman, who was first elected back in 1988. For years, Lieberman was considered a rising star in his party, and was a popular choice as Al Gore's running-mate in 2000. Soon thereafter though, he greatly fell out of favor with his party's increasingly dominant liberal wing who disliked many of the votes he cast and the centrist rhetoric he espoused. By the time he sought reelection in 2006, it was a national cause celebre on the left to defeat him, and they actually succeeded in beating him in a primary for his seat that year. Nonetheless, Lieberman took advantage of his state's election laws to seek the seat in a general election as an Independent. Heavily dependent on GOP votes that year, Lieberman kept the seat after all. Many believed he would eventually switch parties formally, but for the whole six years, Lieberman has called himself an "Independent", while also voting to have Democrats organize the Senate. Still, he supported his friend John McCain in the 2008 Presidential race and appears likely to be officially neutral both in this year's Presidential race and in the contest to replace him.

Democrats had planned openly on once again taking on Lieberman had he sought another term in 2012, while Lieberman flirted with running as a Democrat, an Independent, or even a Republican. It appears likely that the GOP, both on Capitol Hill and back home would have welcomed party switch and attempt to run for another term under their banner, despite usually still voting left of center, but early last year, Lieberman decided that it would be in his best interest to make his current term his final one.

With Lieberman leaving the scene, many Democrats expressed interest in replacing him in a contest in which they would be favored. Four candidates are currently in the primary race that will be decided in two weeks. Only two of them have any chance of winning though. They are Congressman Chris Murphy who seems to have an edge over his main opponent, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.

Bysiewicz was once seen as an up and comer in the party, but she saw her ambitions thrwarted in 2010, first as a candidate for her party's nomination for Governor, dropping out well before the voting to run instead for Attorney General, where she was then thrown off the ballot for not having the appropriate legal exprience to seek that office under state law. With all that drama from two years earlier, it is perhaps not too surprising that more Democrats have lined up behind Murphy, a young 38 year Congressman who defeated a veteran GOP incumbent in 2006 and has impressively held on to a marginal district ever since, including a tough fight in the election year of 2010, where Republicans seemed to do well in most places, beyond Connecticut.

While the infighting among Democrats in this year's Senate primary appears to be increasing, the Republicans are even more divided. Five candidates are on the ballot, but like the Democrats, the focus also remains on a male and female at the front of the pack. It appears almost certain that the nomination will go to Linda McMahon, the wife of the longtime controversial head of World Wrestling Entertainment Vince McMahon. Linda also had as an executive in the organization, usually behind the scenes, but in the years before she sought public office she joined her husband and other family members in taking part in the televised athletic soap opera, even mixing it up in the ring and kicking men in the crotch and whatnot. That might be great practice for the rough and tumble of the U.S.  Senate, but McMahon, who has also served on the State Board of Education, likely had a much better chance of winning an open seat back in the more favorable GOP year of 2010, when she lost as the Republican  Senate nominee by 11 points, despite appearing competitive for most of the race and spending millions of dollars.

Like in 2010, McMahon is facing primary opposition from a former Congressman, who would seemingly be more electable in a statewide race, but is having a hard time keeping up with the deep pockets of the McMahon family in the expensive to run in state, as well as the conservative support she has cultivated among the primary electorate, despite having very teneous ties to the GOP before she started eyeing public office.

This time around, her main opponent is Christopher Shays, a longtime moderate member of the U.S. House who lost his district in the Democrat wave election of 2006. Shays had one of the most liberal voting records of any GOP House Member for years, but still demonstrated some sharp partian loyalty from time to time. Some earlier polling showed he would have been very competitive against the Democrats in the race, but McMahon's resouces helped her capture the official party endorsement and has kept Shays from gaining any traction. Now, while McMahon has an overwhelming lead in the primaries, she and Shays both test about the same against the Democrats.

This GOP primary battle has left some hard feelings as Shays has recently made it known that he will not support McMahon if she beats him in the primary. That spitefulness is not likely to help him win over any undecided Republican voters in the state.

Personally speaking, if I were a Connecticut voter, I would be struggling with who to vote for at this point in my party's primary, and it might only be the inevitability of McMahon's primary win that would lean me in her direction. I definitely feel that Shays would have been the wiser option for the party, considering his politicial experience and lack of baggage associated with the pro-wrestling business. While McMahon has shown political skill over her past two races, if she were ever going to win a statewide election, her time was probably back in 2010. She will spend a lot of money in the state and force Democrats to defend what they currently hold, but I cannot see her getting too close. I probably would have been stubborn enough to stick with Shays until the end if I lived in that state, purely for electability reasons, but his recent pre-emptive abandoment of the Republican voters' choice, makes it hard for me to defend.

The Democrat affiliated Public Policy Polling released a survey today showing that a Murphy vs. McMahon Main Event appears to be close. If Bysiewicz were to somehow escape with an upset win on the undercard, the polls shows there would be a dead heat between her and McMahon in a ladies' championship match. However, if Murphy wins as expected, the race may start off looking reasonably close, but McMahon might need to have the help of a steel chair or other foreign object to take the belt at the end.

McMahon campaign link:


2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 2 D, 1 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 32 D, 38 R