GOP Establishment Showing Signs of Backing ‘More Electable’ Shays in US Senate Race

Most political observers have long thought wrestling magnate Linda McMahon would get the party’s nomination for the fall election to replace retiring US Sen. Joe Lieberman. She has support of many town committee members and committee chairs; she has the campaign structure put in place for her unsuccessful run for US Senate two years ago; and of course, she is filthy rich as demonstrated by her spending of $50 million—mostly her own money—in her loss by more than 12 points to now-US Sen. Richard Blumenthal. But the tide may be turning against her.

The Republican “establishment” (such that it is) is certainly showing signs of getting behind former US Rep. Chris Shays because he is considered to have a significantly better chance in a general election against whoever the Democrats nominate.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last week shows McMahon with a nine-point lead over Shays among registered Republicans. But even that lead has shrunk since last August when McMahon led by 15 points. Now Republican leadership—both nationally and statewide—show signs of backing Shays because the same poll shows him doing better in a general election. This is because Shays, it is thought, would pick up unaffiliated voters in a general while McMahon would lose independents to a Democrat. Let’s consider:

• Just before Mitt Romney appeared in Hartford for a rally, the sharp-eyed Mark Pazniokas of tweeted from the rally location that Shays had a seat reserved for him right up front. Also attending was state Sen. Scott Frantz (a fellow rich guy who raises money for Romney) and Tom Foley who barely lost the race for governor and is expected to run again in 2014). No seat for McMahon.

• When Romney made his remarks, Shays was the only candidate he mentioned by name. Nothing said about McMahon.

• State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, probably the most capable and respected elected Republican in the state, is clearly of the opinion that McMahon may very well lose in the general. “While Linda McMahon has proven she can launch a hard-hitting negative attack against a fellow Republican, she has yet to prove she can win a majority of votes in a general election,” McKinney said. “That needs to be the focus of all candidates running for the United States Senate — issues, experience and vision; not negative attack ads.” Ouch.

• Former Lt. Gov Michael Fedele is out with a video endorsement of Shays, touting the former congressman’s electability.

Of course, Shays endorsed Fedele in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial race instead of eventual nominee Tom Foley.

• US Sen. Joe Lieberman, the man all of the people mentioned in the piece, want to replace may very well back Shays. “I don’t have any current plans to be involved, but Chris Shays and I have a very special, longtime relationship,” the Weekly Standard reported Lieberman as saying this week. “I have the greatest admiration for him. He’s a personal friend. So we’ll watch and see what happens.”

Last month’s Q-poll supports the idea that only Shays has a shot in a general election. The current Democratic frontrunner U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy would defeat McMahon by 15 points, according the poll, while Murphy leads Shays 41 – 40 percent, within the margin of error.

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