Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why The Attack On McMahon Has Not Worked

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that Linda McMahon has whittled down Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s lead in the U.S. Senate race from a high of 40 percentage points to a worrisome 3. And yet, McMahon has come under fierce attack, if not by Mr. Blumenthal then by the media. Judging from Mr. Blumenthal’s slide in poll numbers, that attack has not been effective.

Why has it failed?

The attackers, just to begin with, lie under a suspicion of being ideologically allied with Mr. Blumenthal. The infrequent attacks upon Mr. Blumenthal by the media during his 20 year reign as attorney general have been soft core, and political consumers have now come of age. Mrs. McMahon has been on the attack well before the primary elections in a series of ads and media buys, and one is keenly aware of the palpable disappointment among Connecticut’s left of center media that Mrs. McMahon has so easily found a route around them.

Whether one is disposed to agree or disagree with the thrust of her campaign, there is little question that it has been successful; so much so, in fact, that her campaign may be used in the future as a template, whether it is finally successful or not. Instruction number one in any imitative campaign might read: First, get together $50 million. The amount of money Mrs. McMahon is willing to spend seems by ordinary standards to be much more excessive than people in the nutmeg state are used to.

On the other hand, Mrs. McMahon is battling against the Democratic heir presumptive of U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, whose political career spans the living memory of a good many people in the state. Mr. Blumenthal’s career in Connecticut politics is as long-lived as Dodd’s. In a contest of this kind against opponents who have been cosseted by the media, it helps a good deal to be able to dispose of a few million dollars in a campaign. Mrs. McMahon has generously spent $20 million so far in her effort to deny Mr. Blumenthal his dearest wish. She has threatened to spend more as the general campaign progresses.

Is the money question, which has become one of the chief issues urged against her by her opponents, important?

No one will deny it looms large in the campaign. Who wills the end must will the means. Unhorsing incumbents -- or people like Blumenthal who time, chance and reasonable expectations have fingered as the inevitable choice for such a seat -- is no walk in the park. Republicans, a minority party here in Connecticut, have always been cash poor. But money is not the whole show. Mr. Blumenthal is wealthy enough to balance the scales somewhat, should he so choose.

It is precisely the political presumptions in this election year that are being tested. Off year elections used to be decided on state and local issues. The recession – and, perhaps more to the point, Mr. Obama’s unorthodox means of addressing it – has made everyone in the country sensible that the national shin bone is connected to the state anklebone. The Obama machine is a radical ideological national administration operating in an intensely ideological year. Ordinarily, one expects a viable national candidate to have risen through the ranks. In any other year but this, the year of the little understood and overly abused Tea Party Patriot, Mrs. McMahon’s lack of political experience would be fatal.

Not so this time. During Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign, Democrats who ran on the same ticket with him were only too happy to warm their hands at his fire. But when he came to Connecticut to invite Mr. Blumenthal and other Democrats to take a ride on the magic carpet of his coattails, old campaign war horses such as former Democratic Party Chairman John Droney warned publicly that his presence in the state could not be helpful, and the members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation stayed away in droves.

These all are important signs of the times, but many Democrats seem incapable of reading them. The complaint hollered from every rooftop this year is that national experts who have driven the economy into the poor house have shut their ears and closed their eyes: They do not know where they came from, who they are or where they are going.

The Democrats are calculating their chances with reference to presumptions that may no longer be operative. Blumenthal – though forewarned against it – has run a campaign one might expect from an incumbent. And everything said about him, both by himself and his supporters, leaves an impression that he is running for attorney general, a disorienting message to send in this the year of our discontent.

The old political bromides will not do. The chief problem with the Blumenthal campaign is that it is unplugged. Static is not a winning sound.
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