Simmons to Challenge McMahon in Primary

Posted May 21, 2010 at 10:49pm

Updated: May 22, 12:21 a.m.

Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon won the formal endorsement of the Connecticut Republican Party on Friday night at the state’s GOP convention. However, former Rep. Rob Simmons has decided he will challenge her on the August primary ballot.

McMahon’s victory came as the result of a massive delegate shift after the final round of balloting in which she picked up most of the delegates who supported anti-tax activist Peter Schiff, who came in third behind Simmons.

Simmons secured enough votes to appear on the August ballot, and he decided to pursue the primary nomination even though he said repeatedly in the lead-up to the convention that he would not challenge McMahon if he lost the party endorsement.

“There is much time left in this campaign. I have sufficient funds to make a compelling case to voters before the primary, and that is what is expected by my supporters, many of whom have already asked me to remain in this race regardless of outcome,” Simmons said in a statement. “I’m staying in this race and I am going to win in August.

Simmons spokesman Raj Shah said Friday night that the controversy that embroiled Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal this week surrounding his misleading statements about his service in Vietnam changed Simmons’ mind about pursuing a primary challenge. Shah said Simmons would be a better candidate than McMahon in a character debate with Blumenthal.

“The events of this week show that Rob Simmons is the ideal candidate to run against Richard Blumenthal,” Shah said. Pointing to controversies surrounding McMahon’s work with the WWE, Shah said, “Linda McMamon is a flawed messenger on Blumenthal’s central weakness. Rob Simmons has the one thing money can’t buy, character.”

In her remarks to the convention delegates after her victory, McMahon praised Simmons for his military service and said she looks forward to campaigning with him in the Senate race.

Friday’s GOP convention also decided the party-backed nominees in a pair of potentially competitive House races this fall.

State Sen. Dan Debicella won the GOP nod in the 4th district to face freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D). Debicella won 77 percent of the convention vote, and none of this three opponents got the 15 percent necessary to get onto the primary ballot. Two of those candidates have personal wealth and may try to gather petition signatures to force their way onto the ballot instead.

Meanwhile, in the 5th district, Republicans will have an August primary to determine who will face Rep. Christopher Murphy. State Sen. Sam Caligiuri won the state GOP endorsement, but he will face Justin Bernier in the Aug.10 primary. Two other Republicans who failed to meet the 15 percent threshold may also seek signatures to get onto the primary ballot.