GOP Weighs Simmons Factor in Connecticut

Will Ex-Congressman's Return to the Campaign Trail Affect Republican Prospects in November?

Posted July 28, 2010 at 6:24pm

It may not matter that Rob Simmons has become a candidate again in the race to become Connecticut’s next Senator.

The former Congressman, once the Republican frontrunner and choice of the national GOP establishment, has less than two weeks to overcome weak polling numbers, a huge financial disadvantage and a virtually nonexistent ground game.

Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that there’s little chance Simmons will upset leading GOP Senate hopeful Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, who had already spent almost $22 million from her own pocket on the race through June.

Despite the challenges, in the first of two debates that he will attend this week, Simmons formally resurrected a largely forgotten campaign Tuesday night by declaring, “I am running for the U.S. Senate.”

In an interview Wednesday, however, he said he would raise no more money, add no staff to a campaign that includes only a bookkeeper and part-time scheduler, and avoid going negative should he buy another television ad to supplement the unusual “public service announcement” that aired last week.

“I don’t know what impact it will have, good, bad or indifferent,” Connecticut GOP Chairman Christopher Healy said. “It’s an unusual way to run a campaign, but it’s an usual year.”

The McMahon campaign was less cordial in its assessment of Simmons’ recent moves.

“It’s hard to take anything he says seriously at this point,” McMahon spokesman Ed Patru said. “This has at this point become the most erratic campaign in the history of modern campaigns.”

McMahon is avoiding high-profile confrontations with her Republican opponents. She did not attend Tuesday’s debate and will miss today’s as well. Indeed, with 12 days before the Aug. 10 primary, the campaign has openly turned its focus to presumed Democratic nominee and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

“Republican voters in this state want us and expect us to focus on Dick Blumenthal,” Patru said.

A Quinnipiac University poll of likely Republican primary voters released
July 16 gave McMahon a lead of 52 percent to 25 percent over Simmons, with businessman Peter Schiff earning just 13 percent.

But McMahon’s decision to avoid her GOP opponents pushed Schiff to lash out against the woman who many party leaders believe represents their best chance to reclaim the seat that Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd has held since 1981.

“Linda is used to the fantasy world of wrestling and is trying to buy her own fantasy in this election,” Schiff said in a statement released when it became clear McMahon would not attend Tuesday’s debate. “I thought all that wrestling and fighting in the ring would have made Linda a little tougher; apparently she is afraid of a conversation.”

And in a YouTube video released Wednesday, Schiff told supporters that he would initiate a direct-mail campaign at the end of the week attacking McMahon.

“Remember, none of the Republicans have seen any negative mail on Linda so far, so this is going to be the first time that she’s going to take a hit, and I think we’ve got some good stuff on her,” Schiff said. “This could make a serious difference in this election.”

Additionally, there has been some collaboration between Schiff and Simmons recently as they struggle to craft a strategy to defeat McMahon.

Simmons confirmed having had a private conversation with Schiff about one of them dropping out of the race and throwing his support behind the other. There was no resolution to the discussion, however, and Simmons said it was highly unlikely that he would formally drop out of the race before Aug. 10.

“It was more like, if it helps you and it helps me, let’s do it,” Simmons said of the conversation.

In the end, it likely won’t matter what Simmons and Schiff decide.

“Fully expect McMahon to win the Republican primary very decisively, as she’s spent $20 million — even more than was spent during the entire election cycle in Connecticut’s last competitive Senate race,” said a Democratic source familiar with the race. “While Simmons has taken certain last-minute steps to come out of hiding, he hasn’t really launched a campaign — no field organization, no staff, and his media buy is completely dwarfed by her spending.”