Lest Linda McMahon think her endorsement from the state Republican Party this past Friday handed her the nomination for U.S. Senate, her party challenger Christopher Shays is saying “not so fast.”
The former 21-year member of Congress, who represented the 4th District of Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives, made his primary campaign official on Monday, May 21, by filing with the secretary of the state’s office for the Republican nomination for Senate. Now Ms. McMahon, who cruised to the state party’s endorsement for the second time, and Mr. Shays will face off in an Aug. 14 primary.
Both are seeking to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.). Democrats endorsed U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5) at their party’s convention two weeks ago.
At the Republican convention, Ms. McMahon, a Greenwich resident and former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO, easily captured the party’s endorsement, enjoying strong support from areas like her hometown. All told, Ms. McMahon got approximately 60% of the delegates, outdistancing Mr. Shays with his 30%.
This is the second time the party’s convention held her in such high regard. In 2010, she defeated former U.S. Rep. Bill Simmons at the convention, capturing the nomination before defeating him again in a barely contested primary. She ultimately lost the general election to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
In reaching 30%, Mr. Shays doubled the required 15% of delegate support needed to qualify for the primary. He said this week that he considered the convention just the first stage of the process and the primary will be the second.
Hartford attorney Brian K. Hill has indicated he will also seek a spot on the primary ballot, but nothing is official.
Mr. Shays said he wasn’t surprised by the delegates’ choice. He said by getting into the race later than Ms. McMahon, she was able to get out ahead and sew up commitments from party leaders well before he had the chance. He said he has longtime friends who had committed to her before he even asked, but he expects a different result in the primary.
Noting there were only 1,262 delegates, Mr. Shays says there’s a “big difference” between that and the 140,000 Republicans who typically vote in a primary.
Mr. Shays said he feels Republican voters will best respond to his campaign message. This race isn’t about being a “job creator” as Ms. McMahon has said, but who will best grow the economy, Mr. Shays said.
“I believe with all my heart and soul that we need to focus on restoring the American dream, which is economic growth,” Mr. Shays said. “Every generation has been able to do better than the last and we can’t say that any more. That American dream is our birthright and we need to fight for it. I have the expertise to do it. I have done it before. I won’t need on-the-job training when I get to Washington. I know how the Congress works. I’ve balanced difficult budgets. I’ve cut government spending. I’ve helped grow the economy. I know what it takes to do it.”
Pointing out that he has won 18 elections during his career, Mr. Shays also noted his strong poll numbers against Mr. Murphy. Polls have shown Mr. Shays would essentially be in a dead heat with Mr. Murphy, while Ms. McMahon trails him.
But those same polls also show that Ms. McMahon is favored in a primary against Mr. Shays.
On last weekend’s Face the State, Ms. McMahon said that she felt Mr. Shays should drop out of the race. In a statement from Erin Isaac, Ms. McMahon’s communications director, said it is important to remember she won the endorsement by a two to one margin.
“Friday night sent a clear message that it is time to unite the party around Linda McMahon so we can focus on beating Chris Murphy in November,” Ms. Isaac said.
McMahon looks to Murphy
In her victory speech last Friday, Ms. McMahon did not mention Mr. Shays by name, but she did urge the party to unite to make the case that her candidacy offers, “…a better path to prosperity than what the professional politicians are offering.”
Ms. McMahon focused her fire on Mr. Murphy in her speech, calling him a “creature of Washington” and a “tax and spend career politician.”
“We cannot allow the failed economic policies of professional politicians to continue one day longer,” Ms. McMahon said. “America’s economy isn’t working because Americans are not working. And we can’t keep sending the same people back to Washington who created this mess and not expect them to fix it. The people of Connecticut want leaders who will make tough choices. They want leaders who will make Washington stop spending more than it makes.”
Mr. Murphy issued a statement of his own last Saturday, congratulating both Ms. McMahon on her endorsement and Mr. Shays for qualifying for the primary. He did stress that he remains the best candidate on the ballot to replace Mr. Lieberman.
“This will be an incredibly important election for our state and for our country, one that will make the difference between Republicans and Democrats very clear,” Mr. Murphy said. “While Republicans try to roll back the clock on women’s rights, limit entitlement programs and support tax cuts for the wealthy, I will continue to fight for women’s reproductive rights, protect Social Security and Medicare, and support a fair tax code. Together, with the thousands of activists across Connecticut who have joined our team, we will build the strongest grass-roots campaign our state has ever seen.”
Mr. Murphy is facing a primary challenge of his own from former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, but there are growing calls for her to drop out of the race. Gov. Dannel Malloy endorsed Mr. Murphy weeks ago and this past week, Mr. Blumenthal gave him his full support, as well.
Whether there will be a Republican primary for the other key race this fall remains to be seen. Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik won by a wide margin to get the party’s endorsement to run against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) this fall, capturing 72.9% of the delegates, outdistancing his closest competitor, Stamford businessman Chris Meek.
Mr. Meek said in the aftermath of the convention he had been spending time with his family with his phone turned off for the first time in months. He said after taking his wife out to dinner and seeing his two daughters’ dance recital, they began considering whether to go forward with the campaign.
“We’re taking a little bit of time to assess what’s best for our family and what’s best for the country,” Mr. Meek said. “Those have always been what has guided this campaign and they will be the deciding factors here. No decisions have been made yet.”
Mr. Meek said he would not “drag this out.” He predicted he would make his intentions clear by the end of this week or early next week at the latest.
Obsitnik, Himes clash
In a victory statement to the press on Friday, Mr. Obsitnik, a former officer in the U.S. Navy, went after Mr. Himes, using a similar strategy that Ms. McMahon is displaying toward Mr. Murphy by painting him as a Washington insider unable to address the district’s economic issues.
“Jim Himes hasn’t represented this district in Washington. Rather, he has been Washington’s representative in our district,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “Washington and Jim Himes have let us down. Three times more people are leaving the workforce than are getting jobs. We see higher costs for gas and food, our government debt is at $16 trillion and Washington has not passed a budget for over 1,000 days. In the Navy we have a name for this lack of leadership. It is called dereliction of duty.”
Mr. Himes faced no opponent in his quest for the party’s endorsement for the third term. In a campaign fund raising email, he swung back hard at Mr. Obsitnik for his own “dereliction of duty.” Using a statement by Himes supporter retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Cole, the campaign called the remark “outrageous.”
Mr. Himes’ campaign spokesperson Elizabeth Kerr elaborated, saying, “Steve Obsitnik is suggesting we roll back the new laws that prohibit the casino-like behavior on Wall Street that caused millions of Americans to lose their homes and jobs and advocating we return to a time when children with pre-existing conditions couldn’t get health insurance. Mr. Obsitnik’s personal attacks and overheated rhetoric show that if he wins, he’ll fit right in with the Tea Party Republicans in the House. When the voters make their choice this fall, they’ll choose Jim Himes, the guy who has worked tirelessly to help local businesses create jobs, who wrote new rules to police Wall Street, and who USA Today called one of the bravest members of Congress for his efforts to reduce the federal deficit.”