Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon and former Rep. Rob Simmons didn’t part on happy terms a year ago when McMahon defeated him in the GOP primary for Connecticut’s open-seat Senate race.
So it’s not surprising that Simmons won’t support her imminent second campaign for Senate. But Simmons has another reason: His longtime friend, former Rep. Christopher Shays (R), plans to file the paperwork to enter the 2012 Senate race next week.
Simmons said he told McMahon about his allegiance this week.
“I’ve known Chris for over 20 years,” Simmons told Roll Call. “I just shared with Linda McMahon that back in 1991, when I first ran for state Representative, he helped me with my campaign.”
Shays and Simmons have much in common: They’re both former House Members from Connecticut, they’re viewed as moderate Republicans, and they either have tried or will try to defeat the second-largest self-funding Senate candidate in history.
McMahon spent $50 million of her own money last year to defeat Simmons in the primary and challenge Democrat Richard Blumenthal, to whom she lost in the general election by 12 points. This cycle, Shays is on track to run against the financial juggernaut in the GOP primary for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) seat.
Shays and Simmons individually confirmed that they had an understanding about the 2012 Senate race: Only one of them will run.
“When he said he wasn’t going to run, that’s when I gave it a lot more thought,” Shays told Roll Call on Thursday. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity. I couldn’t be more excited and grateful to have this opportunity. But if Rob had decided he was going to run, then I would have supported him.”
And the feeling is mutual for Simmons, who praised his former colleague for his accomplishments. But Simmons stopped short of fully endorsing Shays, in part because he is not an official candidate yet. Shays plans to file his paperwork to enter the race Sept. 3, after his work for a commission on wartime contracting is published.
“He is not only more than qualified to serve effectively in the Senate, he’s extremely highly qualified to serve effectively in the Senate,” Simmons said.
McMahon is reportedly expected to enter the Senate race in the coming weeks, and she has already tapped GOP campaign guru Chris LaCivita to help her. The Virginia-based consultant served as the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s political director at the end of the previous cycle.
Shays predicted he’ll need to raise $6 million to $10 million for his entire Senate campaign. But there’s another financial issue he might have to tackle in the meantime: $280,000 in debt from his 2008 loss to now-Rep. Jim Himes (D).
Shays’ former campaign manager, Michael Sohn, embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the former Congressman during his previous race. Shays says that the current debt is from legal expenses related to Sohn, who is serving a 37-month prison sentence.
Shays plans to petition the Federal Election Commission to allow him to raise money to pay off half of the remaining debt, then move the balance to creditors for Sohn to pay off.
He plans to separately fundraise for his Senate race and his House campaign debt.
Republicans realize the Connecticut Senate seat will be a tough race to win in 2012, and polls show that other Senate races could be easier ways for the GOP to win the three seats needed to gain the majority. Roll Call rates the Connecticut contest as Likely Democratic.
Rep. Christopher Murphy, former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. William Tong are running for the Democratic nomination.