Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rob Simmons Lost, Courtney Won; Blame It On Voting Machine #2 At Hebron Elementary School

The recount in Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District gives Democrat Joe Courtney a win by less than 100 votes out of nearly a quarter million cast.

For those like me who are sorely disappointed at the outcome you can blame voting machine #2 at the Hebron Elementary School in Hebron, CT. That is the machine I voted on and like every other one of the eight machines in use on Election Day, it registered about 100 votes less for Rob Simmons than for Republican Governor Jodi Rell who was separated from Simmons' slot on the ballot by only one space.

That means that for some reason about 50 of my friends and neighbors voted for the Republican Governor, but then switched and voted for a Democratic Congressional candidate. Or, 100 of my friends and neighbors voted for the governor, but simply did not vote for Simmons. Either way, that cost Simmons the election. We'll go into that in a minute.

The same thing happened on the other seven machines and they are up for grabs as scapegoats. But I voted on Machine #2 and that one is mine.

Pundits have been rehashing the election results for a week now and it is unlikely that they'll delve deeply into this race what with things pretty much settled out in Washington D.C.

But several months ago I sent a note to an acquaintance in Washington, making the point that what happens in Hebron is indeed important to the overall scheme of things on the national level and it would not be a good thing for the national Republican Party to ignore events out here. Obviously, the national Republican Party didn't agree with me. Obviously, they were wrong!

Although the closeness of the final vote, not uncommon in this district, which has a much higher Democratic voter registration than Republican, with independents holding the trump card, may have reflected voters' mood on national matters, the real issue behind those 50 switched votes on Machine #2 has little to do with Rob Simmons.

Rather it has everything to do with a Republican candidate for the state's 19th Senate District, an 11-town island smack in the middle of the 2nd Congressional District, made up of 10 rural or suburban towns, and the small city of Norwich. The candidate, Matthew M. Daly, announced his intent to run for the 19th District seat in January 2005, two months after the previous Republican candidate, Catherine Marx, was trounced by the incumbent Democrat, octogenarian Edith Prague, by 27 percentage points.

Daly's announcement apparently upset some well-crafted plans by local and state Republicans on who was to next face off against Prague, and his candidacy was not embraced either on the local or state levels. For starters, Marx maintained well into 2006 that she was still considering a second run against Prague, hoping that two years as the just-designated Eastern Connecticut representative for Gov. Rell, with an office in Norwich, would give her the needed name recognition to do a better job the second time.

But Daly forged ahead with his campaign. When the convention date arrived Daly stood alone and received the unanimous endorsement. That is key here. If Daly wasn't considered an optimum candidate by the party hierarchy in Hartford, then they damn well should have put someone up to challenge him.

They didn't, which makes what followed even more reprehensible.

At that point in his campaign Daly had assumed one of two things would happen. Either the state party would finally jump on the bandwagon, or he would go it alone, albeit with enough financial backing to do a full-court PR job. It was widely assumed he would need from $80,000 to $100,000 to do an adequate job of getting his message across.

But a third possibility arose, one that had not been fully considered in the pre-convention planning. The state and local party structures began an all-out campaign against their own candidate, with Republican State Central Committee members bad-mouthing him at every turn or ignoring him when it suited their needs, town chairman (the equivalent of city ward bosses) refusing to help out even with updated voter registration lists, and the money handlers at party central closing the tap completely.

One group of state-level operatives even rewrote a TV commercial a PR firm had prepared for Daly, substituting it with a wordy, badly produced version that showed Daly perpetually scowling (he was faced INTO the sun, a no-no if you want a pleasant appearance) that surely would have cost him even more votes if it had run.

One State Central Committee member from Norwich had vowed that Daly would win the nomination "over my dead body." That didn't happen, but the Norwich Republican Town Chairman twice scheduled appearances for Daly before the full Town Committee and twice cancelled the meetings by telephone without notifying Daly or his staff.

To be sure, Daly brought on some problems himself. He is plain spoken, blunt some would say, doesn't hesitate to call out centrists in his own party, and has burned some bridges locally in his short political life. But he obviously thought that either the party would close ranks behind him, or he would be able to go it alone as long as he had the financial means.

Marx had raised about $60,000 in her campaign, and Daly counted on a similar amount. That much, judiciously applied to an effective PR campaign, was considered enough to do the job. In the end, he raised less than half that amount, with only $1,000 coming from the state party very late in the game, and $500 from his own local town committee, a quarter of the amount that same body had donated to the Marx campaign two years earlier.

Did I mention that Marx was by now the acting chairman of the Hebron Republican Town Committee? Or that the immediate past-chairman of that committee is one of Daly's biggest detractors? Those are important pieces of the puzzle.

But even with the level of opposition aligned against him Daly felt he had an untapped source of votes with area Catholics, especially since a diocese is headquartered in Norwich, area veterans sided with him, and the NRA gave him an A rating while his opponent got an F.

But then the boom was lowered. While campaigning in Norwich Daly found that he had been labeled through a widespread and highly effective whisper campaign as a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. (Please see my post from Oct. 30)

Initially Daly thought this was a Democratic dirty trick, and believed he could offset it by publicizing his long-term support for minority causes.

But then he discovered that the story was being spread throughout Republican households in Norwich as well as among Democratic and independent voters. His own party was falsely labeling him a bigot in the one town in the district with a sizeable minority population.

In the end it worked. Daly pulled only 30 percent of the vote, although many in his opponent's camp thought he wouldn't get more than 10 percent. With his own party so actively engaged against him, Democratic insiders saw Daly not as a Republican, although he bore the label, but as an independent candidate who, like most independents, would poll single digits at best.

But Daly's detractors in his own party apparently didn't think through the residual effects of their blind and overzealous mission to keep him from being elected. They didn't think two moves down the chess board, as in "If I play this piece and I take that piece, how vulnerable do I then become?"

Because if they had thought two moves down the chess board they may well have thought about the concept of guilt by association. "If Matt Daly is a bigoted radical, in an election where things in Washington are already turning off the base, why should I vote for any Republican, other than the governor who is everyone's favorite grandmother?"

It was obvious on election night, as party bosses from Hebron listened to the vote tallies that they were truly pleased at Daly's numbers falling far short of Prague's. It was equally obvious that they were oblivious to the precipitous drop-off from Gov. Rell's numbers to Rob Simmons'.

In the end the Connecticut Republican Party was successful in killing Matt Daly's campaign, and simultaneously killed Rob Simmons' campaign. When the dust settled, power had shifted in the nation's capitol, and Jodi Rell was elected as a lame-duck governor presiding over a state legislature that has such lopsided Democratic majorities that we are in effect a one-party state and both houses can override any veto Rell may attempt to levy on bills she doesn't like.

But one of the most effective, knowledgeable members of the state Congressional delegation is packing his office and moving home.

All because of the bitterness and manipulations of a few myopic gamesmen and women, who probably don't realize it yet, but they have killed their own political careers too. And it all happened in the Hebron Elementary School on voting machine #2.


Anonymous said...

We have an incompetent state Republican party administration, that has not created a brand of the party in probably 20 years or more. Games and picking favorites seems to be the favorite occupation, not winning elections, not governing.

With honor and pride they would resign in mass, then we could start over. I do not expect that level of personal responsibility for their chronic failures in party administration and election strategery.

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