Commentary Magazine


Topic: Connecticut Senate race

Ethics Could Cost Dems CT Senate Seat

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.

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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.

As Politico reports, the detail of the Murphy complaint doesn’t paint the congressman in the best light. A few months after his first term in Congress began, Murphy was sued over his defaulting on a loan that originated with Webster Bank. That lawsuit was eventually dropped but the bank, which is listed as a contributor to the congressman’s campaign, then gave Murphy an additional loan and charged him the prime rate rather than one that would be given to an ordinary consumer. Members of Congress are prohibited from receiving any deal that a member of the public cannot obtain.

Both Murphy and the bank claim no wrongdoing was committed. But the transactions appear to be symptoms of the usual influence peddling in which politicians are handled with kid gloves by businesses that stand to benefit from the decision made in Washington. Murphy may be entitled to the presumption of innocence under the law but in the court of public opinion he will soon find that the appearance of corruption will convince voters that he is guilty until presumed innocent. His answer to the charges, in which he says that they merely show he’s “not a perfect person,” may be the best he can come up with under the circumstances but are not likely to convince voters he is clean.

This will give McMahon a club with which to beat Murphy until the election and, given her considerable resources, it is likely that few in the state will not be aware of the case by the time she is done pounding the theme in her ad campaign. Though the Democrat has the advantage of running in a blue state and having the opportunity to catch Barack Obama’s coattails, the last thing he needed was something that would allow voters to see him, rather than the wrestling mogul, as the ethically challenged candidate.

While I was deeply skeptical of McMahon’s chances of doing better this year than in her first try for the Senate in 2010, it looks like I — along with a lot of others — may have underestimated her and overestimated Murphy. Republicans who wrote off their chances of winning the Senate when Todd Akin went off the deep end on abortion in Missouri may have found another pickup that will allow them to be in the majority next year.

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More Blue State Warning Signs for Obama

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.

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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.

Quinnipiac shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney by only seven points in Connecticut. That 52-45 margin doesn’t look very good when compared to the stunning 61-38 point victory he won there in November 2008. Connecticut may not truly be in danger of going Republican but if the president’s margin of victory there this fall is only in single digits, it’s going to be a long night for the Democrats.

McMahon may have rehabilitated herself to the point where she’s competitive, but her lead may be due more to the enthusiasm gap between the two parties this year than her own efforts. Nevertheless, with her enormous financial edge, having a lead heading into the fall is a big deal for McMahon. It also shows that Democrats are going to have to work to hold onto Connecticut. And that’s good news for Romney even if Obama winds up winning there.

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Can McMahon Steal a Blue Senate Seat?

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.

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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.

McMahon goes into the general election with the same edge she had when she lost a 2010 Senate race against Richard Blumenthal: money. The former boss of the WWE spent tens of millions of dollars of her own money in an election where she had the advantage of running in a year in which Republicans won a midterm landslide. She was also facing an opponent who was humiliated by the revelation that he had lied about serving in Vietnam. But Blumenthal, a popular attorney general who had been winning statewide contests for 20 years, still beat her handily. That caused observers to wonder why she — or the Connecticut GOP — would think she’d do better in a year in which Barack Obama would be at the top of the ticket in a state where the president is expected to win easily.

There’s no ready answer to that question but McMahon is determined to spend as much as she needs. She’s also up against a congressman who has no real negatives but isn’t a statewide figure either. McMahon still carries all the negative baggage that comes with running an enterprise many voters believe to be disreputable and which promotes violence and misogyny, not to mention having a record of steroid abuse. Yet perhaps after two campaigns, enough of the public is willing to overlook that and accept her as she’d like to be known now: as an independent/Tea Party figure determined to overturn the always-unpopular political establishment.

Indeed, the fact that Murphy is buying ads promoting his candidacy during the WWE’s “Raw” programming may be a sign that the Democrats are no longer counting on the wrestling issue being enough to disqualify McMahon. As the Hartford Courant reports, the WWE, which is still controlled by the Republican’s family, actually issued a statement razzing Murphy for purchasing time on their show for the second week in a row even after he and the Democrats had denigrated it as beneath the dignity of a potential senator as part of their attacks on McMahon.

We’ll have to see if today’s Rasmussen poll is confirmed by other surveys in the coming weeks. But it’s got to be worrying Democrats. If deep blue Connecticut is in play, then they are in much bigger trouble than anyone thought.

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Is it Ever Okay to Nominate a RINO?

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?

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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?

By the time he lost his seat in 2008, Shays had become a poster child for a nearly extinct species: moderate to liberal Republicans. On abortion, gun control, campaign finance reform and other conservative litmus test issues, Shays was on the liberal side of the spectrum. He also angered many by ditching his party on the war in Iraq in 2006 by calling for a troop withdrawal, a tilt to the left that helped hold onto his seat for one more term. Ironically, that was the same year Lieberman refused to bend to pressure from left to oppose the war and thereby lost his party’s nomination before winning re-election as an independent.

McMahon has no such liabilities as far as conservatives are concerned. But she does have two big problems. One is that her past as the head of a business as disreputable as professional wrestling makes her a tough sell in the state that calls itself the “land of steady habits.” The other is that her raw conservative populism is politically radioactive in liberal Connecticut. It should be remembered that during her initial foray into electoral politics in 2010 she faced off against an ethically damaged Democrat (Richard Blumenthal had been caught on tape lying about his service in Vietnam) in a year in which the Republicans made historic gains but was still beaten in a landslide. There’s no reason to think she will do any better this time around. Shays has, at worst, an even chance at stealing a seat the Democrats are counting on in a desperate battle to hold onto their Senate majority.

Across the state line to the east, Republicans won a huge victory a year ago when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Brown comes across as a populist, but once you get beyond his opposition to ObamaCare and his truck, he is pretty much a standard issue New England moderate. Brown might be what passes for a conservative in Cambridge but does anyone think the GOP would have even a ghost of a chance of holding that seat in November against Elizabeth Warren with someone conservatives might like better? Its not likely Shays’ votes would be all that different from Brown’s or those of the retiring Olympia Snowe in Maine.

Having worked hard to purge the RINOs some conservatives are so offended by moderates that they are prepared to sacrifice electability for purity. They will argue, as some have in this year’s presidential primaries, that Republicans lose when they nominate moderates. But whatever one might think of the veracity of that claim on a national level, it makes no sense when you are discussing states that simply will never elect a conservative like Connecticut.

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint famously said in 2010 that he’d “rather have 30 Marco Rubios [in the Senate with him in the Republican caucus] than 60 Arlen Specters.” But while his distaste for Specter was understandable, does that mean he and others on the right would really prefer to have a standard-issue liberal Democrat representing Connecticut rather than a squishy Republican who might make Mitch McConnell the Majority Leader rather than Harry Reid? Does no one in the GOP remember the seats they tossed away by nominating unsuitable right-wing candidates in Nevada and Delaware in 2010 rather than moderates or the advantage that gave Barack Obama in a score of legislative fights in 2011 and 2012?

Democrats won back the Congress in 2006 largely through a policy of nominating conservatives to run on their line in red states (think Heath Shuler in North Carolina). While Shays has an uphill battle to overcome McMahon’s enormous financial advantage in a GOP primary, that’s a lesson Connecticut Republicans might do well to remember.

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