Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Connecticut (National) Politics, Money Equals Power. But Does More Money Equal More Power?

Mid-July is an important time all across the country on the federal election calendar, because financial reports are due and everyone wants to see who has raised the most money, as well as the sources of the funding.

It is especially important in Connecticut where a heated race is underway in the Republican Party to determine who will face Democratic Senator Chris Dodd next year. Dodd's popularity is at an all-time low and a tight race for what had been a solid Democratic seat is anticipated.

Leading the race for the GOP nomination, in both the fund-raising and support categories, is former Congressman Rob Simmons. He is followed by Greenwich businessman and former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, with Sam Caligiuri, state senator from Waterbury running a distant third.

Most opinionists maintain that he who has the most money has the best chance of winning the nomination. This theory has at its base the concept that more money equals more communications abilities and thus the candidate with the most of each will attract the most votes.

In Connecticut, however, that theory went right out the window when the other Democratic Senator, Joe Lieberman, lost the Democratic nomination to rich Democratic businessman Ned Lamont. But Lieberman went out to the general electorate and won hands down despite Lamont throwing millions of his own dollars into the contest.

There are numerous reasons behind that turn of events, including the fact that many Democrats aren't happy with the far left wing of their own party, even though that wing has control of the party and engineered Lamont's nomination. Lieberman also is popular with Independent and Republican voters, and they rallied behind their senator despite his running on a third-party ticket.

There also is the concept that if people do know a candidate, and don't like that candidate, all that is accomplished by mass communications is reminding the voters that they dislike the person.

According to all the pre-filing day publicity, Rob Simmons is leading the fund-raising efforts for the GOP nomination, and thus is considered the front runner. Caligiuri has raised about one-seventh of the money that Simmons has, and Foley is supposed to have raised roughly two-thirds of Simmons' total. The exact figures will be known when the reports are filed this week.

But it is worthwhile here to question whether being ahead in the money game means being ahead overall. For example, in a recent blog I called on GOP national chairman Michael Steele to exert some influence on Congressional Republicans who are helping the Democrats push a Socialist agenda.

The Democrats, despite majorities in both houses of Congress, have enough independent minded people in their party that programs reflecting a socialist philosophy can't be guaranteed passage, unless sufficient Republicans defect, which unfortunately, they have been doing, seemingly with impunity. In that column I also noted how the Connecticut GOP has a history exerting control by supporting some candidates, including incumbents, and not supporting others, by either opening the funding spigot, or closing it off entirely.

Specifically I said:

"The Republican Party in Connecticut where I live has a long history of screwing over people who aren't part of the inner circle of party hacks. Promising help to aspiring candidates who then get left swinging in the breeze when they find out that only some candidates, who get prior approval from D.C., really get any help, is a big joke and a favorite pastime of the Connecticut GOP's inner circle. No kidding, I've seen this time and time again."

Oddly enough, that one paragraph, out of the entire column, generated the most comments, some of which I published. And even though the writers preferred to remain anonymous there were some questions raised that deserve to be debated. To refresh your memory, the comments were:

Ron ... A few months ago I was privy to a conversation among high-ranking CT GOP insiders about the upcoming U.S. Senate race. Although they were aware of my identity, they were completely unaware of my allegiances and perception of them.

They were bemoaning the decision of State Senator Sam Caligiuri to challenge former Rep. Rob Simmons for the nomination. In their conversations they seemed to regard the nomination as Simmons's birthright because he had served in Congress. They spoke about how Caligiuri was an overall good guy "except for what he's doing challenging Simmons". Moreover, they spoke about how Caligiuri would find himself "shut out" from fundraising channels, especially those outside the party.

But the larger issue here is that I find the back room efforts of state party insiders to rig the nomination for Simmons to be disturbing. It points to a larger issue: the reality that many GOP insiders actively work to impede the efforts of talented candidates. Is it any wonder that the Socialist Democrat Party has control of the country? We'll never win when we're divided like this.

I felt honor bound to respond that Rob Simmons is my friend, fellow Vietnam vet, hardly an insider, and the candidate I will support right through a primary, and to the 2010 election if he wins the nomination.

That in turn generated another response and this is why I have brought this who issue up again, because the response deserves an answer.

July 03, 2009 8:50 PM
Anonymous said...
Ron, although I disagree with you, I respect you 100% in your support for Simmons. You are an honorable man and fighting the fight the way its supposed to be fought. My beef is with the party insiders who think they are doing the GOP a favor by rigging nominations. Recognizing that you are supporting Rob, would you agree with me in saying that Rob has no special claim to the nomination and that he has to campaign just as hard as the other candidates to earn it?

I am not supporting Caligiuri. I haven't yet decided who to support. ... What I will say is that there are a lot of honest hard-working republicans who are pissed off at the GOP party establishment and believe that GOP insiders and party bosses are part of the problem. I have to say that I'm pissed off at what's happened to the party - how our ideal, our values, and our principles have all been watered down. ... Let me ask you three more questions, Ron.
(1) What did the senior vote do for John McCain?
(2) What makes you think that Simmons will do better than John McCain in Connecticut? The two of them seem an awful lot alike.
(3) How does Simmons win the state, given his struggles to hold onto the 2nd Congressional District? What if Dodd drops out and Simmons has to go head to head against Chris Murphy? Or in other words if people's anger at Dodd comes off the table as an issue, how does Simmons fare on his own merits?

OK, first off I don't think Rob Simmons or anyone else who is running for office has a right to that office. I think incumbents should work just as hard on successive terms as they did to get into office in the first place.

As an example I would refer you to Pam Sawyer, long-time Republican Representative for the state's 55th District, covering Andover, Hebron, Marlborough and Bolton. Pam goes out and campaigns just as hard even when she is unopposed, as she did the very first time.

And you see her all the time in between election cycles, doing her job, addressing constituents' concerns and representing her district. I believe she does what all politicians should do. Unfortunately not everyone follows Pam's lead.

Rob is one of those people who has a work ethic like Pam does, and that is one reason why I am supporting him. Rob also has never used his office to enrich himself. However, while I am supporting Rob, I also think he should be working for the nomination and not taking anything for granted.

The party leadership in Connecticut knows Rob; he was in the state legislature before he went to Congress so name recognition in our party should be a given. But I don't see Rob as a backroom wheeler dealer. I know him to be honest and up front. He knows people but I don't believe for a minute that he believes the nomination is his just because he wants it.

The senior vote didn't do enough for John McCain, but the real issue was that he lost the veteran vote. There are many, many Vietnam veterans, the largest segment of the veteran demographic, who are not supporters of McCain for a number of reasons including his stance on immigration and POWs-MIAs.

The loss of that demographic hurt McCain enough for him to lose the presidential race. Rob Simmons is respected to the maximum by the majority of veterans and Chris Dodd has no means of taking that support away from him.

For that reason alone, Simmons will do far better in Connecticut than McCain, not to mention the fact that Simmons - if he is nominated - will be running against Dodd who is having severe credibility and support problems. Even if he runs against another Democrat, which doesn't seem likely, Simmons has a solid base of support and good will.

Rob lost the 2006 election by 83 votes not because he was not popular enough, but because his own party from the Bush White House and national Republicans in Congress, right down to the local level, worked against him, tacitly if not overtly.

In my community at that time there were 8 voting machines. Gov. Jodi Rell polled about 100 votes more than Rob on each machine. If he had matched her on just one of them, he would probably still be our Congressman.

Why didn't he? Because Republicans in my community worked for Rell, but not for down-ticket candidates. In addition, Republicans in my community actively worked against a candidate who was a bit further down the ticket than Rob, forgetting Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment and the concept of collateral damage.

All together, the votes that went for Rell were not carried on down ticket and every single Republican candidate suffered, Rob probably more than any other. He also was outright sabotaged in other communities, by his own party, which again flies in the face of the "insider" label.

So, will being the front runner for this quarter ensure that Rob gets the nomination? And if he does, will it carry him to victory against Dodd?

Well, for starters, Tom Foley, whom I have never met, and who seems like a very accomplished man, got a lot of money very quickly because he knows where to get a lot of money very quickly. He did it for George Bush after all, and that as I understand it, is how he became Ambassador to Ireland.

But Rob got much of his money from the rank-and-file - thousands of individual donations according to a recent statement from his campaign.

Money translates to communications abilities, but money from lots of people translates to votes. No one has a crystal ball and there is no guarantee that Rob will stay on top, but then again, even if he doesn't there is no guarantee that having the most money will translate into the most votes.

Even though Sam Caligiuri is pretty far behind, he announced today that he favors term limits, a matter that is near and dear to my heart. It certainly got my attention, and probably is doing him some good in areas where people aren't already committed to someone else.

But then again, Rob Simmons supports term limits too. By all reports Simmons leads the way today, and I will be supporting him regardless of whether that changes because I believe he is the best man for the job. But it is a long way to the 2010 election, and many things can change.

So I'm not ruling anything out at the moment, but in my opinion, the man who is leading the race is the man who should be leading the race, and I will be working to make sure he goes pole to pole.


Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that the Republican Party calls itself open and a Party of the People yet is still based on "good ole' boy" relationships. They need new blood, to help new candidates and to encourage people to become involved.

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