Blumenthal’s Long Wait

Connecticut’s ‘Man With the Golden Résumé’ Blocked From Senate Run

Posted March 16, 2005 at 6:13pm

In an event as regular as the quadrennial election itself, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) is once again mulling a campaign for governor in 2006.

Some political observers believe he’d also consider a run for Senate next year, on the slim chance that three-term Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) retires.

That, in a nutshell, defines the 59-year-old attorney general’s career.

Despite persistent entreaties from Constitution State Democrats in the past decade, Blumenthal has consistently declined to run for governor, opting instead to seek re-election for a job that has often won him praise.

“I have said that I am still very much considering it because it would be an exciting and challenging opportunity in public service,” Blumenthal said in a telephone interview Wednesday. But he added: “My focus right now is on being the best possible attorney general I can be.”

The attorney general demurs on when he’ll issue a decision — “I will definitely be on the ballot in 2006,” is all he’ll say.

Several Connecticut political prognosticators suggested in interviews that it is unlikely Blumenthal, at one time dubbed the “Man with the Golden Résumé,” will consider the governor’s race, electing instead to hold out for the opportunity to run for one of the state’s Senate seats.

But such a plan does have its drawbacks, as Fairfield University politics professor John Orman said: “Our knight in shining armor has been waiting a long time.”

Back in 2000, Slate magazine ran a profile of Blumenthal that posited this question: “He was supposed to be president. So why is he only Connecticut’s attorney general?”

Long considered a rising star in state political circles, Blumenthal won election to his current post in 1990, after serving terms in both the Connecticut state Senate, from 1987-90, and the state House, from 1984-87.

In the midst of his first term as attorney general he declined an appeal from state Democrats to campaign for the governor’s office, then an open race. Four years later in 1998, he again turned down pleas, opting against taking on then-Gov. John Rowland (R).

“It’s really the Senate that he wants,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz.

In the 2000 presidential race, when then- Vice President Al Gore tapped Lieberman to be his running mate, the junior Senator could have abandoned his re-election campaign, thus opening the race to Blumenthal and others. Whoever wound up the Democratic nominee would almost certainly have won easily. But Lieberman ultimately chose to pursue both campaigns simultaneously, eliminating that possibility.

Now, with both Lieberman and Sen. Chris Dodd (D) as well-entrenched on Capitol Hill as ever, the outlets for Blumenthal’s political ambitions appear limited.

The attorney general declined to specify whether he views the Capitol as his preferred destination.

“Politics is supremely unpredictable, but I have been very happy and fulfilled in my present job and it’s afforded unlimited opportunity to help people, which is the goal of anyone in public life,” he said. “I don’t have defined timetables or deadlines, or rungs on a ladder that I feel I have to climb by a certain age.”

Still, the former U.S. Marine Corps Reserve sergeant said he has yet to rule out any options: “If there are opportunities at any level whether at state government or federal I would certainly consider them.”

While he continues to consider the 2006 gubernatorial contest, Blumenthal acknowledged that he would yield should the state’s senior Senator enter the race.

“He has really incomparable talent and insight that would make him a national leader instantly among the governors,” Blumenthal said.

But in a statement, a spokesman for Dodd said Wednesday that it will not happen.

“Sen. Dodd has said repeatedly he has no plans to run for governor. Nothing has changed,” the spokesman said.

Still, political observers suggested that if Dodd, whose Senate term does not expire until 2010, were to seek the governorship, he could appoint Blumenthal to complete his term, although other lawmakers, such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D), would also be likely contenders for the post.

A 2006 gubernatorial bid by Blumenthal seemed like a much surer bet several months ago, when a scandal-tarred Rowland was forced to resign and his untested lieutenant governor, Jodi Rell, took over. But Rell has proved to be popular with voters and state politicians.

A November 2004 Quinnipiac poll showed Rell taking 45 percent against 43 percent for Dodd in a potential matchup. The same poll found Rell with 46 percent against Blumenthal, who received 40 percent.

“The question is whether he has the fire in his belly to take on a challenging race,” Quinnipiac’s Schwartz said of a potential gubernatorial bid by Blumenthal. “That’s always the big question mark. Does he want it enough? Nobody really knows.”

Alternately, several political observers suggested that Blumenthal could end up with an executive branch or judicial branch appointment, if a Democrat becomes president in 2009, noting his candidacy for a judgeship in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during the Clinton administration.

Then-President Bill Clinton wanted to appoint Blumenthal to the court late in his second term, but never formally nominated him after concluding that there wasn’t enough time in his presidency to ensure that Blumenthal would be confirmed.

“He could do any number of things. He is that rare politician that has many options still and has had many options,” noted Roy Occhiogrosso, a principal in the Global Strategy Group. “There are worse problems you could have on your hands than to have all of those options in front of you.”

Still, Occhiogrosso said it isn’t impractical to imagine Blumenthal will seek to retain his current post for a fifth term.

“He enjoys his job as attorney general, it gives him a chance to work on many different issues,” Occhiogrosso said. “There’s always an expectation in politics that you have to climb that next rung on the ladder, but there are actually politicians who are happy with the jobs they have and enjoy doing them.”