With only days to go before Democrats and Republicans vote in their respective primaries the most noise on the GOP side seems to be coming from Peter Schiff who is running dead last in the race for the US Senate nomination.
Whether it is a calculated political move aiming to capitalize on last minute negativity or a simple case of too little, too late, Schiff has gone as negative as a candidate can go - aiming most of his invective at Linda McMahon. In fact, Schiff has gone so far as to call her the dreaded "L" word.
Yes, that's right, Schiff has called McMahon a (shudder) Liberal!
Schiff was last seen hovering around 14 percent in the polls and had about no chance of beating Democrat nominee and current Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal if they are the final contenders. Yet, he is regurgitating old news about McMahon, wrapping new ads around it and hoping to somehow come up nearly 40 points in the polls in less than a week.
Not only is that not likely, but it also runs the substantial risk of turning off the electorate and alienating the GOP base. Political commentators have been noting that independent voters, who comprise the largest voting block in Connecticut, are moving toward GOP candidates.
But make no mistake about it, even with the independents on your side, you still need a highly mobilized, united base behind you to win most races, regardless of whether you are Republican or Democrat. That doesn't seem to matter to Schiff.
For her part, McMahon is ignoring Schiff entirely, both in her own ad campaign and on her television appearances. She talks about former Congressman Rob Simmons who is running 2nd in the GOP nomination race, but says nothing about Schiff, as if he doesn't exist.
That appears to be enraging Schiff who has ratcheted up the vitriol in the last couple of days.
On balance, Schiff also has taken out some of his anger on Simmons. That in itself is surprising since Schiff released his convention delegates to Simmons back in May when Schiff realized he would have nowhere near enough votes to qualify for the primary, much less to win the party nomination. (Schiff ultimately got on the ballot through petitioning, although that was a squeaker too.) If any two candidates in the three-way race have issues in common it would seem to be Schiff and Simmons.
Yet, earlier this week Schiff launched a diatribe against the Norwich Bulletin after the newspaper endorsed Simmons. In his news release, while saying on one hand that he respects Simmons and his 30 years of military and government service to the country, Schiff also said Simmons' service pales in comparison to billionaires like Bill Gates of Microsoft fame and fortune.
I found that line appalling, especially since any successful statewide candidate in Connecticut needs the support of the veteran community. Going back to what I said above about needing the support of your base, in GOP circles the base includes a large percentage of veterans.
Alienating the veterans, in what really was the most petulant news release I have seen in over three decades of political involvement both as a participant and journalist, is a sure way to cut your own political throat.
Schiff's release, which was issued with the subject line Radical left wing Newspaper endorses Rob Simmons, stated "Now, I have nothing against Rob Simmons. I also respect his years of military service. But that services (sic) pales in comparison to that of Bill Gates. Bill Gates' wealth was derived solely based on the pursuit of personal wealth and self-interest, the precise motivation that the Bulletin so readily dismisses. Yet Gates did far more to improve the lives of ordinary Americans then (sic) Simmons.
Rob Simmons has spent his entire life collecting government paychecks. He has never run a business; he has never produced a product, provided a service, or created a job. Yet according to the Bulletin that makes his (sic)uniquely qualified to be a United States Senator."
I think it is necessary to point out that many of Simmons' government paychecks were earned under fire during tours of combat duty in Vietnam where he was awarded two Bronze Star medals, and another decade as an undercover operative in the CIA. Not exactly the kind of jobs where you sit at a desk playing computer solitaire and sipping coffee all day, but rather the type that enables every businessman and woman in the USA to get up each day and do what they want to with their lives!
And I can't remember the last time Gates, for all of his accomplishments, had to wend his way through a minefield on his way to watch the sunset from the lawn of his Pacific coast mansion, or was sniped at while flying around in his private jet. In fact, I don't think I ever heard that Gates had to duck rockets or mortars or small arms fire, although I think his feelings did get hurt a couple of times when he was launching his new Microsoft products and they crashed during press conferences.
Schiff also lamented the fact that he didn't get any endorsements from any Connecticut newspapers, but there are far better ways to spin that situation than to go on the attack against your opponents. Schiff doesn't seem to mind that his tactics run the risk of pushing him further out of the running, and could result in ill will against him that will last far longer than this election cycle.
Simmons didn't respond to the Schiff news release, which probably is just as well. Nonetheless, it was a perplexing bit of campaign communication and I can't help but wonder what Schiff was thinking.
When he appeared at my Town Committee meeting before the convention I was surprised to see the extent to which Schiff is "handled" by family members who accompanied him, and his intense focus on just one issue - the economy. There is no doubt that Schiff is an accomplished economist and the economy is a major point in this election, but there are myriad other issues that he seems to have ignored, and the answer to every question he is asked ends up working its way back to the economy.
While Schiff is going on the attack, both Simmons and McMahon are pushing hard with their own ad campaigns, touting their qualifications while questioning Blumenthal's. Although Simmons didn't have the money to match McMahon for most of the summer, his current expenditures are said to be nearly equal to McMahon's in the last days before the vote.
And before I forget it, I also should point out that all three candidates in the GOP race for the governor's office are on the warpath too.
Several months ago I signed up for a breaking news update from Channel 3 WFSB's political commentator Dennis House and was happy to get advance notification that the gubernatorial candidates would be debating on the air last Wednesday. I tuned in to the debate which was co-hosted by NPR and WFSB and was treated to some of the most intense political commentary that I have seen in a long time.
Former ambassador and businessman Tom Foley is leading the pack but he also is under an intense attack from Lieutenant Governor Mike Fedele, who continued the theme of his ads during the debate. Foley wasted no time or energy in countering them.
Meanwhile, businessman Oz Griebel seemed to relish the opportunity to point out that he is the only candidate who isn't bringing baggage into the race, noting that the subject matter of his opponents' ads will be fodder for the Democrats' playbook in the fall.
All in all, if politics interests you, this has not been a boring summer, and the vote Tuesday should set the stage for an equally exciting fall. But the one caution I have for all the candidates is to remember that sooner or later the primary and the general election will be over. Then there will be fences to mend and significant challenges facing the winners at both the state and federal levels.
The wise candidates will ensure that their colleagues and countrymen alike are willing to support them after the elections. Those who choose over-the-top attacks as opposed to civil debate and honest shows of differences will find that they have quickly become an asterisk in Connecticut's political history.
Friday, August 06, 2010