If Democrats weren’t already worried about the recent turnabout in the Connecticut Senate race, they got more bad news over the weekend. Republican challenger Linda McMahon filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics over the conduct of her opponent Rep. Chris Murphy. She accuses Murphy of getting a sweetheart loan from a bank that had donated to his Congressional campaign while he was serving on the House Financial Services Committee.
While Democrats will answer by pointing out McMahon’s own troubled financial past as well as that the complaint won’t necessarily lead to legal difficulties, this is a major problem for Murphy. Connecticut politics was turned upside down two years ago when similar questions about sweetheart deals for former Senator Chris Dodd forced him out of office after 30 years. Moreover, it levels the playing field between the two vying to succeed Joe Lieberman since the sort of public corruption that Murphy is accused of is generally viewed by voters as more serious than anything to do with McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. Given that, contrary to all expectations, the race between Murphy and McMahon is tied and that the latter will almost certainly outspend her rival by a huge margin in the next two months, there is no longer any doubt that this race has become a tossup that may soon be leaning to the Republicans.
I noted last week that a Rasmussen poll showing Republican Linda McMahon in the lead in the Connecticut Senate race and wondered how she could be doing so much better in 2012 than she did in 2010, when she lost another Senate race in a landslide. There was some reason at that time to think that poll was an outlier since the former pro wrestling mogul had polled badly all year in general election matchups prior to winning the GOP primary last month. But yet another poll has just been released, this time by the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University that again shows McMahon beating Rep. Chris Murphy by a 49-46 percent margin. At this point, even those like myself who have been skeptical about the idea that a deep blue state could possibly send a Republican to the Senate this year, let alone one with as dubious a background as McMahon, have to concede that she has an excellent chance of winning.
However, I’m still somewhat skeptical about the idea floated that the sole explanation for this is that in the past two years the brash businesswoman has been able to alter her image. It may well be that after three years in politics, voters in the state that calls itself the “land of steady habits” may be getting used to McMahon and no longer associating her primarily with the misogyny, drug use and violence of the WWE. But there’s another hint in both the Quinnipiac and Rasmussen polls. If, as they show, even the top of the ticket is losing ground in deep blue Connecticut, the Obama re-election campaign may be in bigger trouble than many of us thought.
Republicans are mourning what most now concede is the certain loss of a U.S. Senate race in Missouri that they were sure was a pickup for the GOP only last week. Rep. Todd Akin’s idiotic comments about rape and pregnancy has elevated embattled Sen. Claire McCaskill from likely lame duck to someone who is favored for another six years in Washington. That’s a blow to Republican hopes of finding the four turnovers they need to take control of the Senate next year and repeal ObamaCare, but a Rasmussen poll may give them some hope of making up for the Akin fiasco. The latest survey of the race to replace outgoing independent Democrat Joe Lieberman shows Republican Linda McMahon grabbing a surprising 49 to 46 percent lead over Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy among likely voters.
Throughout this year, McMahon has polled badly in a general election matchup against Murphy. That was the argument former congressman Chris Shays used in the Republican primary earlier this month, but the overwhelming majority of GOP voters rejected him in a landslide win for McMahon. But if the Rasmussen poll is not an outlier, it may be a sign that the pro wrestling entrepreneur may actually have a shot of stealing a seat that almost all political observers had assumed was in the pocket of the Democrats.
The transformation of the Republican Party in the mid to late 20th century from one dominated by a moderate-liberal Eastern establishment to the current conservative model is a historic fact. Even the mere hint of moderation on the part of a Republican candidate is enough to send the party’s grass roots into conniption fits. The most damning accusation that can be lodged against anyone in the GOP these days is that of being a RINO — Republican in name only — a term that is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism. But two important Senate contests this year raises an interesting question that Republicans ought to seriously consider: is it ever okay for the party to nominate a moderate?
In Connecticut, two candidates are contesting the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman: Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former congressman Chris Shays. For conservatives in this very blue state, the choice may be an easy one since McMahon is a Tea Party sympathizer. By contrast, Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll showing the pair in matchups against the two prospective Democratic challengers in the race ought to give even the most ardent RINO-haters pause. The survey shows Shays in a virtual dead heat against either Democrat while McMahon is badly beaten in both matchups. Should that influence GOP voters?