EARLY HANDICAPPING OF 2012 US SENATE RACE

Last week was significant in the race for the US Senate that is nearly two years away. First, it certainly shows that getting into any race early is important if for no other reason, for fundraising. Second, for political junkies like The Shad, it’s a nearly seamless transition from one election cycle to another (which is good for business).

The Shad doesn’t claim to have a crystal ball, but I do have the inside scoop with the players in the race so far. Here’s an early handicapping of the race (and you can hold me to it):

Democrats:
Susan Bysiewicz. The former state secretary of state was the first to officially get into the race and did so before Sen. Joe Lieberman got out. Let’s just say for starters, she’s tenacious and has guts. Most politicians who had an election cycle like she just had would run and hide or at least take a high-paying job with some law firm that wants a name (which she actually did with Updike, Kelly & Spellacy).

Let’s review for a moment: She ran for governor, was leading in the polls, switched to the race for attorney general and then was knocked off the ballot when the Republicans sued, alleging she didn’t have the required 10 years of the “active practice of law.” Putting aside for a moment the absurdity of such a requirement (does the treasurer need financial experience? Does the governor need any certain level of education?), the only way the Republicans could stop her from being elected AG was to not let the people of the state vote for her. Then there was the ballot disaster in Bridgeport.

There are other problems. The list of voters she kept as SOS; the huge money she spent after the election for “thank you” effort. And questions about who will pay her legal bills incurred in the AG ballot fight, details of which were unveiled by the Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender Sunday.

On the plus side, her support may be “short” but it’s “deep.” In other words, her supporters can’t be moved away from her. It’s just a question of whether she can garner further support and convince people she’s not an unmitigated opportunist who was paying more attention to her own political ambitions than doing her job as SOS.

Chris Murphy. Elected to his third term as congressman from the 5th district, Murphy announced he’s in the race just a day after Bysiewicz. He’s an attractive candidate who should not be underestimated—just ask Nancy Johnson. Energetic, photogenic with a beautiful young family, Murphy is also a skilled orator and debater, a talent that the rest of the state has yet to see and one that could make the difference in the race (The Shad worked with Murphy when he was in the state senate and he has always impressed me).

Right now, my pick for the nomination is Murphy. But a primary is a long way off.

Ted Kennedy, Jr. Despite his name, he is an unknown in Connecticut in the sense that if you asked people a couple of years ago, chances are they wouldn’t even have known he lived in the state. He certainly could raise money, especially nationally.

It has been reported he has not ruled out a run to serve in the body that his uncles (JFK, RFK) and father (Ted Kennedy) did. One can assume his politics are on the liberal side but we don’t know for sure where he is on issues facing Connecticut. He’s the wild card.

Joe Courtney. He won’t run because he is “Murphy-lite.” Likable and chiefly responsible for saving the sub base, he comes from the 2nd district which is no man’s land to the rest of the state. He won reelection in November against Janet Peckinpaugh who had no money and barely Sean Sullivan in 2008 which was a huge Democratic year with Barak Obama at the top of the ticket. A Courtney v. Linda McMahon race would be a nightmare for the Democratic party.

John Larson. He won’t run because his congressional seat (1st district) is so safe he can stay there for life. He is also in a good position in the leadership of House Democrats. Even his close association with the unpopular Nancy Pelosi didn’t hurt him at home.

Kevin Lembo. This is a just a personal thought. No one has mentioned his name as a potential candidate and I doubt he’s ever even been asked about it, I just think he’d be a great candidate. Having run a flawless and successful campaign for comptroller, I’d love to see him give it a shot.

Republicans.
Linda McMahon. She’ll be in. Her 2012 campaign started with her “concession” speech in November when she lost to Dick Blumenthal. She clearly has the campaign bug and enjoyed being a candidate more and more as the campaign went on. Sources close to McMahon tell The Hanging Shad she will run.

The key to McMahon’s success will be softening her image. She started to do that in the last race but did so too late. She needs to show she is “one of us” not some wealthy mogul of an unseemly business. Originally 40 points down, she closed the gap substantially to end impressively against the very popular Blumenthal losing by about 7 percent.

Going against campaign conventional wisdom, McMahon should dial back the direct mail. Many voters were turned off by having to throw away (hopefully in the recycle bin) a glossy piece from McMahon literally every day. Being better prepared for impromptu media questions (can you say, “minimum wage?”) would help too.

And of course, there’s the money—buckets of it. In for $50 million, in for $100 million or more. Campaign spending won’t be a problem.

Tom Foley. He would be a formidable candidate but he probably won’t want to get into a spending war with McMahon although he could if he wanted to. Foley won over a lot of people with his graceful exit from the gubernatorial race. Some ridiculous radio talk hosts and other hard-core sore losers called him a quitter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike McMahon, Foley looked like he had enough of being a candidate at the end, especially enduring the ballot disaster in Bridgeport.

Mike Fedele. He hasn’t ruled out a run but success in this race would be a very long shot. The former lieutenant governor got jobbed when the person who picked him to be LG, Gov. Jodi Rell, wouldn’t endorse him in his own bid for governor. He enjoys serving in government but he’ll never get to the US Senate in 2012.

Peter Schiff. Can anyone figure this guy out? He seems half a whack job but he is the guy who predicted the economic meltdown in the country two years ago. He’ll never get the Republican nomination.

Chris Shays. No. Just no. Go away.

Rob Simmons. He damaged himself badly when he took his ball and went home after losing the nomination to McMahon at the Republican convention but then mounted a weird, last minute effort to tell people “I’m still on the ballot.” Although if he runs, maybe he’ll stay off TV as an analyst. That would be a good thing.

Two other names mentioned: Businessman Christopher Meek and actor John Ratzenberger (“It’s a little known fact, Normie…”). The latter has been making national TV appearances talking about policy issues but the Cheers jokes will be endless.

All in all it will be an extremely interesting and fun race. And we have just less than two years to enjoy it.

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