Analysis: Two Weeks to Go and Where Do They Stand?

We are now two weeks away from the primary elections in which the parties will choose their nominees for US Senate, Congress and various other races. The Hanging Shad has followed the races closely, commenting on www.ScullyCommunications.com, the Hartford Courant, and on NBC Connecticut and FOX Connecticut TV. Here is how I see it heading into the final weeks.

US Senate
Republicans
Former wrestling magnate Linda McMahon is firmly in control of this race despite her “run and hide” approach. Like a baseball team running away with the division, her handlers are taking no chances. No more debates, no interviews with the state’s newspaper editorial, no unscripted chances to blow it.

McMahon leads rival former US Rep. Chris Shays by some 29 points in the last Quinnipiac poll and it’s driving him crazy, almost to the point of making him irrational. Shays is currently running a last ditch TV ad campaign touting his experience.

Shays has an air of “I can’t believe this woman is beating me.” Always a bit eccentric, Shays lost it after a debate on NBC Connecticut. “I have never run against an opponent that I have respected less — ever — and there are a lot of candidates I have run against,” said Shays. “I thought she was embarrassingly clueless [in the last debate]…You have a candidate who is basically giving the finger to all the editorial boards…She is not willing to come before you and respond to all your questions…She is basically saying … and it is a huge distortion to say, she is out there meeting the public and that is the better way to do it — bull—-,” Shays said. “I think she is a terrible candidate and I think she would make a terrible senator,” he said. Ouch. Shays clearly doesn’t lose well.

One can sort of understand Shays’ frustration. He thought serving 21 years in Congress and the state legislature before that would carry him, if nothing else, out of respect for his experience. He seemed to have the support of the party establishment—getting mentioned and a front row seat for Mitt Romney’s visit—but it all wasn’t enough. Shays started in the hole financially after a key campaign worker absconded with a boatload of money in his last congressional campaign. He never caught up.

Shays was hanging on to one last branch on the tree—the contention that he would fare better against likely Democratic nominee US Rep. Chris Murphy. “I’m the only one who can win” was blown out of the water in the last Q-poll that showed McMahon would actually do better in the general.

Unless a few more wrestlers die and it can be proved McMahon personally gave them the steroids between now and the 14th, she’s going to win. However, Shays is right on another point. If she faces US Chris Murphy in the general election in November, she’s going to have a tough go of it. Murphy is smooth, smart and loaded with campaign cash.

Democrats
I still scratch my head about the fact than Susan Bysiewicz is running an admittedly false attack ad against Murphy. How does this happen? I’m talking about factually wrong and she admits it. Perhaps her past scorched-earth campaigning simply means to lie on TV pales in comparison. Bysiewicz is smart, tough and tenacious. She’s also going to lose big as things stand now. In Monday night’s debate, Murphy said Bysiewicz is “lying to voters” which is true with that ad. Murphy too, can’t seem to figure out how she finds the cahones to keep the ad up (it’s run its schedule so it is no longer being seen but the damage is done).

Voters can be forgiven if they need a scorecard to keep track of the offices she has sought. In 2010, she was famously leading the Democratic pack in the race for governor (a group that included Dan Malloy). She then switched to attorney general because she clearly wanted to set up the current run for US Senate. She was then ruled ineligible for the race because of some convoluted ruling by the state Supreme Court regarding experience required for the job. Ultimately, she was left on the sidelines in 2010.

But all things considered, there is no excuse, no explanation, and no benefit of the doubt for running a false ad. She has strong support among some town committee members. It won’t be enough.

Despite all the holes in the Bysiewicz campaign, Murphy would have won anyway. He’s run a near flawless campaign—smooth on the stump, measured, smart, simply a good politician. He has good ideas for job creation, taking a moderate approach in the workers v. business struggle. He’s got plenty of money, the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party establishment in the state and just about everyone else. He wins in a landslide, setting up the McMahon v. Murphy general that all of us political junkies are waiting for.

US Congress, 5th district

You can throw a big top over this entire district because it’s a circus. Dual grand jury investigations; arrests of campaign workers; personal fortunes being spent; negative ads running; in other words, Connecticut politics.

Republicans
The entire race hinges on turnout and which candidate can get his or her voters to the poll. The shamelessly low turnout for primaries (in mid-August doesn’t help) means the race can go any of several ways.

State Sen. Andrew Roraback, the party endorsed candidate, seems primed for a victory here. He’s a conservative but not the crazy, off-the-charts, right-wing type, many of which are in Washington now. Roraback, unlike his rivals, has a legislative record. It’s one of working with the other side but staying solid when necessary. He’s been in office for 18 years and knows the political “score.” At least he likely wouldn’t add to gridlock.

Right-wing conservative Mark Greenberg has been the topic of several articles in the press touting his chances for an upset. He raised eyebrows by suggesting Islam was a cult; hammered Chris Donovan over the arrests in that campaign and is largely financing his own run for a second time (he finished third in 2010). He could pull off something on the 14th if the polls are crowded with arch-conservatives. However, it just doesn’t seem like the fifth district is that much to the right.

Business woman Lisa Wilson-Foley is an enigma. Her campaign has largely disappeared since it was revealed a federal grand jury was investigating the “unpaid, volunteer” relationship between her campaign and former Gov. John Rowland and Rowland’s simultaneous paid relationship as a consultant to Apple Rehab, a company owned by Wilson-Foley’s husband, Brian. Wilson-Foley still has former state GOP chairman Chris Healy who has a formidable political mind.

The last candidate is Justin Bernier, an Afghanistan war veteran. He deserves the thanks of a grateful state and nation but necessary its votes. He did however, manage to stir things up in a debate Monday.

Democrats

It’s hard to tell just how the indictments, arrests and general pall hanging over the campaign of state Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. Donovan, who claims he didn’t know what his top people were up to, is going all in with labor. His labor support, at least among the leadership remains strong. Union members vote and will come out in the middle of August to do so. It’s just so far gone at this point. If he knew what his people were doing (allegedly hiding the source of campaign contributions in exchange for killing potential legislation), that is obviously criminal. If he didn’t know, he’s clueless and is similarly disqualified from serving in Congress. As I pointed out in a Courant op-ed, Donovan can’t win on union support alone.

Several officials and media outlets have called for Donovan to get out of the race. State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney Tuesday will call for a bipartisan “committee of inquiry” to look into the latest developments in the case—the fact that top staffers in the speaker’s office were discussing killing the bill in question with campaign staff. It will be hard for Democrats, who control the Senate and House, to say no. The scandal has reached into the speaker’s staff. That’s enough for an investigation. The Dems will look bad objecting. Donovan may be toast even if he wins the primary. If he is the nominee, it increases the chances Republicans will recapture the congressional seat. National Dems are “off the package” as they say. There are calls for Donovan to leave “for the good of the party.

Donovan’s troubles are Elizabeth Esty’s gains. Esty has finally emerged as the intellectual alternative to Donovan. Stopping short of calling for Donovan to get out, she’s finally noting the problems his candidacy would cause. Esty is smart and a former state lawmaker who would make a wonderful congresswoman. She does have exposure of her own, however. Her campaign contribution list is filled energy companies, including some that would be interested in building a natural gas pipeline through Connecticut. And then there’s the forgotten (for now) contributions from people who work for companies that do business in the state and are regulated by the state agency headed by her husband.

Dan Roberti is the third Democrat in the race. He has great promise but no experience and remains unknown to most voters.

Your thoughts?

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