By PATRICK SCULLY | COMMENTARY
The Hartford Courant, SUNDAY, AUGUST 19, 2012
Political party loyalists in Tuesday’s primary elections sent a pretty clear message: We don’t care if you’re filthy rich, little known or spent your life in government — we can still vote for you. But extremists and candidates tainted by scandal? No thanks.
Democrats are in position for some big wins in November. The primary campaign of U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy for the Senate nomination was flawless. He is smooth, fast-thinking, issue-oriented and, most important, experienced. He has a record on which he can run and, if he can avoid being tagged by Republican opponent Linda McMahon as simply a career politician looking for a gigantic step up the political ladder, he should win.
McMahon should not be taken lightly. She got some serious love from GOP primary voters, taking an astounding 73 percent of the vote. It didn’t hurt that her opponent, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, might as well have been aboard Curiosity roving Mars.
McMahon starts off the Senate race very close to Murphy in the polls, unlike her 2010 race against Sen. Richard Blumenthal in which she started 30 points down. Republicans seem not to care that McMahon’s chief qualification for the job is her personal millions. It’s not every day you get a chance to support a candidate who can back up a dump truck filled with cash and release its back gate.
The former wrestling magnate made job creation her campaign theme, arguing she did it in the private sector after lifting herself out of bankruptcy. Just as Murphy’s congressional record is fair game for scrutiny, so too is McMahon’s claim of job creation and what she’s been doing for the last 10 years.
The results of the 5th Congressional District primaries — Republican and Democratic — say a lot about the state’s voters. The main message was, “We are tired of corruption and even the whiff of wrongdoing disqualifies you.” Bravo.
Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan was cruising along three months ago. He was the Democratic front-runner with fundraising prowess and the support of the much-vaunted labor voting bloc, the power of which is now in question. Then his campaign slammed into the cliffs of Mount FBI. The ongoing investigation that produced the arrests of his top aide, his finance chairman and others was followed by a number of rookie, head-scratching blunders that portrayed Donovan as clueless. Democratic primary voters would have none of it.
Former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s victory in the primary was surprising. But, with Donovan disqualified in voters’ minds, they turned to Esty, a smart, connected moderate who has plenty of money behind her. The only other choice was Dan Roberti who was done in by his lack of work history in Connecticut and his questionable resume. Even a Bill Clinton endorsement and robo-call couldn’t help Roberti.
Republican primary voters in the 5th also made a strong statement: “Thanks but no thanks to extremist conservatives.” The victory by state Sen. Andrew Roraback showed that despite the diversity of the district, the GOP wasn’t about to nominate Mark Greenberg or Justin Bernier. Their competition during the campaign as to who is more right wing doomed them both.
Yes, they got more votes combined than Roraback, but there is no guarantee those votes would have gone to either Greenberg or Bernier had the other dropped out. Greenberg blames Bernier for his loss. Greenberg can be forgiven for being bitter. He dropped $2 million of his money into the race and has nothing to show for it.
If Lisa Wilson-Foley hadn’t imploded when her past political activities became known (she once supported Obamacare and contributed to a previous Murphy campaign), her campaign was contaminated by a scandal involving former Gov. John Rowland. It turns out the FBI is very interested in the fact that Rowland served as an unpaid “adviser” to the Wilson-Foley campaign while being paid handsomely as a “consultant” to businesses owned by Wilson-Foley’s husband, Brian.
Before the Rowland scheme became public, he was slapping around Wilson-Foley’s chief rival, Andrew Roraback on his radio show. Once Wilson-Foley was linked to an FBI probe that included Rowland, it was bye-bye.
So now we’re left with McMahon vs. Murphy and Roraback vs. Esty. The fall campaigns are going to be very interesting and will shape Connecticut’s political future for a long time.
Patrick Scully is a political analyst and consultant. He is a former communications director for the state Senate Democrats.
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