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Flake, meanwhile, emerged from the late August GOP primary drained. He spent most of last month trying to replenish his campaign coffers and pivoting to the general election. At the same time, Carmona spent most of September telling his personal story. Flake is now on the air, but Democratic outside groups are outspending their GOP counterparts 4-to-1.
Republican swagger about the direction of the race in Connecticut is comparable to Democrats’ optimism about Arizona. But so is their defensive posturing.
Operatives in both parties argue that on Election Day, each state will perform in line with its partisan leanings.
“There’s been some natural tightening, but Republicans still feel confident at the end of the day,” a national GOP strategist said about Arizona.
A national Democrat similarly argued that the party would win the race in Connecticut and noted that the state favors Democrats more strongly than Arizona favors Republicans.
Carmona and McMahon are both banking on their crossover appeal for ticket-splitters.
Carmona was a registered Independent until his decision to run for Senate. In interviews, he prefers long-winded nuanced arguments rather than fiery ideological sound bites.
Republicans charge that he is avoiding taking stands. But they also acknowledge that his profile — Vietnam veteran, medical doctor, law enforcement officer and U.S. surgeon general during the George W. Bush administration — has a strong appeal to men.
It is no secret that Republicans courted Carmona, who once killed an assailant in a shootout, to run for office in the past.
Conversely, McMahon is working to appeal to female voters. The Murphy camp recently went up with an ad tying McMahon to so-called anti-woman policies that have been embraced by prominent Republicans. McMahon responded within 24 hours declaring herself “pro-choice.”
Adding to Democratic concerns is Murphy’s name identification issue. When McMahon lost big in 2010, it was against a statewide officeholder, one-time Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. But Murphy has struggled to raise his profile outside of his district.
“We knew this race would be close,” said a source with knowledge of the Murphy campaign’s strategy. “We knew she would have the resources ... to push voters her way while they were only listening to her attack ads.”
The belief among Connecticut and national Democrats is that while McMahon currently has a positive favorability rating, those numbers are soft and susceptible to Democratic negative advertising.
Carmona and McMahon had autumn windows of TV advertising while the other side was dark.
Murphy impressed many with his $3 million third-quarter haul, and Flake has proved to be a strong fundraiser in the past. There is little doubt much of that money will go toward October ad buys. The test for McMahon and Carmona over the next month will be whether they can withstand the negative ad barrages that are on the air now.
The backstop for Democrats in Connecticut is that President Barack Obama won the state by a 23-point margin in 2008. He is not expected to reach those numbers again, but his coattails are a part of the Murphy strategy. Arizona is also not in play at the presidential level, but Democrats have made noise about it becoming competitive, and the longer-term trend favors the party.