Before the Connecticut state Republican convention in May I was a staunch backer of former Congressman Rob Simmons in his quest for the nomination to run in the US Senate race against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
During that period I wrote several columns showcasing potential problems that would be faced if Linda McMahon were selected as the GOP candidate, starting with her World Wrestling Entertainment firm's history regarding steroid use, questionable skits and "soap opera" story lines starring the wrestlers and various members of the McMahon family, deaths of former employees and federal investigations.
I did this for two reasons. I wanted fellow Republicans to back the man I was backing, and I also wanted them - and McMahon - to see what they were sure to be facing in the fall elections if she won the nomination. My reasoning on the second point was simple: deal with these issues now or you will surely be facing them in the fall.
But even though she bragged that she would spend as much as $50-million of her own money to win the race, which in itself was a questionable tactic, her ultimate campaign was one of blunders, gaffes and missed opportunities, which leads me to question whether the people backing her ever intended for her to win.
When McMahon visited my local GOP Town Committee I asked her point blank what she was going to do to turn around her incredibly high negative numbers - the percentage of people who see her in an unfavorable light. She said she would attack the negatives with her indomitable fighting spirit just as she had other issues she faced in life. Her supporters gushed and smiled at each other, but apparently failed to note that she had no specific plan.
At the GOP state convention in May, where I was a delegate and voted for Rob Simmons, I had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with McMahon. I found her to be warm, charming and engaging, and in response to a question from her I promised that if she won the convention - and what was sure to be a primary afterward - fair and square, I would close ranks and support her in the general election.
It should be pointed out that I followed Rob Simmons' lead in this position; he is a gentleman and not the kind of man who will desert his party or his beliefs even if he loses and even if there is an unholy conspiracy behind his loss.
She won both the convention - in a display of vote changing at the end of the first three-way ballot that I found disgusting - and the primary, and both Rob Simmons and I kept our promises. But oddly enough there was no interest in what either of us had to say or input that could have helped her against Blumenthal.
McMahon garnered big headlines when her campaign provided the New York Times with proof that Blumenthal was lying about his claimed service in Vietnam, but she made the grievous error of trying to ride that one issue to victory. Nowhere in the campaign did I see anything about the myriad weaknesses Blumenthal was carrying from his years as Connecticut's Attorney General, and nowhere did I see anything in the general election campaign that would tell the undecided voter exactly what McMahon would do differently in Washington if she was elected.
When she should have been on the offensive, gaffes such as a confusing answer on the state minimum wage kept her on the defense. She spent millions on advertising, but apparently no one pointed out to her that there was a point of diminishing returns.
There were so many mailers coming into my home that after a while they ceased to have any impact. There were so many television and radio commercials that after a while they merged into a form of white noise, something going on in the background that wasn't really seeping into conscious thought and action.
McMahon did well in her debates against Blumenthal and nailed him to the wall when he couldn't explain how to create a job. But she relied on the Vietnam lies to win all the state's veterans, which carried two errors. First, so much advertising was focused on his Vietnam lies that over the summer the issue lost its impact. Second, although Vietnam vets are the largest veteran demographic today, they aren't the only segment of the veteran demographic and there are nuances within that overall demographic that must be addressed if such a large voter bloc - 300,000 in Connecticut - is going to support a candidate.
It was in this realm that I offered to help, especially after a commercial attacking Blumenthal's Vietnam claims aired in early October - with the people on the commercial offering no indication by clothing, insignias or other identifiers that they were veterans, or more specifically that they were Vietnam vets.
My offer went exactly nowhere, except possibly into the circular file, as the legions of veterans with expertise in voter dynamics who were on McMahon's campaign staff apparently assured her that what she was doing was all that needed to be done. (Sarcasm intended if not understood.)
Which again makes me wonder; did the people who ran and backed her campaign ever expect, or more pointedly, want her to win. There is little doubt that McMahon wanted to win; assuming that even someone worth a half-billion dollars feels the loss of $50-million. McMahon used her money early on to co-opt the GOP leadership in Connecticut; for instance, hiring the wife of state Chairman Chris Healy for communications work at a really, really nice salary, much higher than normally is paid for that position in this state.
She hired a campaign manager from the west side of the state who despite running unsuccessfully for Congress two years previously, had the support of the inside D.C. Republican establishment including then-President George Bush. She made donations to Republican town committees, and used the promise of future riches, implied if not overt, to lure Simmons supporters to her side before the convention and primary.
But despite the money and the assumed support of the GOP establishment, McMahon never had it. I attended a Simmons fund-raiser in Greenwich in the spring where national GOP strategist Dick Morris referred to McMahon's campaign as "a joke." Some well-known Republican stalwarts attended that event, and it was clear that establishment Republicans would never support McMahon.
Last night, I sat in the Vernon, CT, GOP headquarters as the returns came in and were posted. I noticed that McMahon was beaten handily in traditional Democratic districts, but she also was beaten handily in traditional Republican districts, even when other Republican candidates did very well in those districts. Obviously, Republicans were thinking about their choices, and they either didn't vote for McMahon, or they voted for Blumenthal over her.
Which brings me back to the main point. Did the people surrounding McMahon really intend for her to win, or were they just milking her of some of the WWE's profits, knowing all along that she was the lesser of the GOP candidates and not likely to make a reasonable showing?
In the days before the election McMahon's negatives were over 50 percent, and women were not flocking to her at all. In fact a huge percentage of women voters were totally turned off by her and royally offended that she was blowing millions on an ineffective campaign when so many people are out of work, losing their homes and worried about their bills. She did not connect, and the average woman voter did not feel that she shared their view of the world.
I also talked with several people today who were angry with McMahon's concession speech, which was described as "a victory speech without the victory," and her declaration that she would party all night long. They say she didn't seem to have taken the future of our state and country seriously.
I have believed for quite some time now that many so-called GOP "leaders" in Connecticut who describe themselves as true-blue hard-core Republicans, really aren't Republicans at all.
How else to explain that the Democrats still maintain control of the Connecticut House and Senate and now appear to have won the Governors race too, although there could be a court challenge over voter fraud especially in Bridgeport? How else to explain that when so much of the country turned to the GOP, in Connecticut most voters turned away?
Many other rank-and-file Republicans also have been questioning the true loyalties of the Connecticut party's so-called leaders. Nothing I saw in this election has done anything to answer those questions.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010