Tomorrow’s Connecticut Senate Republican primary poses an interesting dilemma for the voters. Back when the story broke of Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies about serving in Vietnam, the thinking here was that the obvious beneficiary ought to be former Republican congressman Rob Simmons, a decorated Vietnam vet who had been the favorite for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd. But I was ignoring the fact that Nutmeg State Republicans were more impressed by the fact that the revelation was the work of Simmons’s rival, pro-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon.
In the face of McMahon’s huge money advantage and the fact that the party establishment had abandoned him, Simmons withdrew, although it was too late to take his name off the ballot. But after a couple of weeks, unhappy about his decision, Simmons resumed his candidacy, albeit in a halfhearted sort of way. Perhaps he thought that in a primary with what will probably be a small turnout, he still ought to have a decent chance of upsetting McMahon. Her record as the head of the deeply unsavory WWE ought to provide enough fodder for Democratic opposition researchers. But the story this week isn’t the chance for Republicans to rethink their embrace of a candidate with no chance to win. Rather it is the way the dynamic of the race has been changed by her early and massive media campaign, which put very effective commercials on air, showing upscale women talking about Blumenthal’s shortcomings and McMahon’s strengths.
As Reuters noted yesterday, the $50 million of her own money that she is prepared to spend has done more than turn the heads of Republican bigwigs. The television ads aired so far have helped lower Blumenthal’s lead to 10 points in a recent Quinnipiac poll. So rather than the absurdity of a WWE exec in the Senate — with all the related questions about violence, vulgarity, fraud, and steroids, which pro wrestling conjures up — it may be that Blumenthal’s problems will still be the big story this fall. As the New York Times reported in April, even before he was humiliated by the reporting of his Vietnam lies, Connecticut Democrats were so unimpressed with his campaign that they were calling him “Martha Coakley in pants.” If Blumenthal, rather than McMahon, is being viewed as the problem candidate today, it is only because the latter’s money has helped keep the bull’s-eye on his back rather than on her own.
That means that even though McMahon’s wrestling record arguably ought to disqualify her for high office, her energy and determination to win (literally) at all costs make her the obvious Republican choice, as well as a woman with a more than reasonable chance of being sworn into the Senate in January. Back in the spring, Democrats might have been hoping to have the scandalous McMahon to run against. But today, Blumenthal may be saying a silent and hopeless prayer that the lackluster, though better qualified, Simmons pulls off a monumental upset tomorrow.