McMahon, Blumenthal Face Convention Tests

Posted May 21, 2010 at 4:31pm

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) faces a major test at tonight’s state Democratic nominating convention, less than a week after his campaign veered sharply off track over comments he made about his previous military service.

Keeping his little-known Democratic challenger from achieving the 15 percent necessary to have his name on the August primary ballot would go a long way toward demonstrating that Blumenthal has contained the fallout from the uproar over his Vietnam-era service and can move forward with the full support of his party.

But not to be lost in the recent drama over Blumenthal is how the scandal is playing into the jockeying that is taking place at the Republican convention.

For former Rep. Rob Simmons (R), the scathing New York Times story about Blumenthal misstating his military record has allowed the former Congressman to remind delegates of his own military record — including an overseas deployment and two Bronze Star medals.

It’s also allowed him to focus the Republican conversation on the issue of character rather than the establishment versus outsider story line that has so far dominated the early portion of the race. That’s probably a good thing for a former three-term Congressman who also served as a Congressional aide and spent nearly a decade in the state Legislature running in one of the most anti-establishment cycles in recent memory.

Simmons would clearly rather talk about the more salacious story lines and scandals that his top primary opponent, Linda McMahon, has been attached to because of her work as the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. And while McMahon’s camp has cast their own dispersions on Simmons’ character (recently hitting him for a plagiarized jobs plan that was posted to his campaign website), Simmons would clearly rather talk about that issue than allow McMahon to frame the debate as a successful businesswoman versus a former politician trying to get back into the game.

“Just as Blumenthal’s unscrutinized record has now caused consternation for Democrats, so will McMahon’s for Republicans,” Simmons said in a release immediately after the Blumenthal story broke on Monday. Pointing out that McMahon has said she’s prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars on her own campaign, Simmons added “trust and character are qualities that no amount of money can buy, and they are issues in this race.”

But, not surprisingly, McMahon’s supporters interpret the Blumenthal story differently.

It’s become obvious that McMahon’s camp played some role in the New York Times story, although the paper and McMahon’s camp have disagreed on exactly what that role was. Immediately after the story broke, McMahon’s camp took credit by indicating that it was written from McMahon’s own opposition research. It later downplayed its role after that story line began to take the spotlight off Blumenthal.

Regardless, McMahon supporters privately say that the Blumenthal story proved that McMahon can run a serious campaign with serious opposition research and stand up to the best that Democrats put forward. They view it as way for McMahon to prove she’s a serious candidate heading into the convention.

On Friday afternoon, McMahon spokesman Ed Patru said he was “cautiously optimistic” the campaign will win top billing on the primary ballot by winning the delegate vote Friday night.

“Our expectation is that it’ll be close,” Patru said. “The mere fact that this is even close is a testament to how much momentum Linda has gained since getting into this race.”

Meanwhile, Simmons spokesman Raj Shah was still pushing the character issue.

“Rob’s record of service makes him the only candidate with character in this race,” Shah said. “Linda McMahon is a flawed messenger on that count.”

Shah said he was optimistic that the former Congressman will win the delegate vote tonight, which is especially important because Simmons said he won’t move forward with a primary challenge if he doesn’t.

“The last few days have given us an opportunity to highlight our case which is one of character,” he said.