A recent poll by Public Policy Polling indicates that Chris Shays may have a certain value, among Democrats mostly, as a spoiler candidate.
The poll shows Linda McMahon leading former U.S. Rep. Shays in a Republican Party primary by an unsurpassable margin of 60-27 percent. Since primaries were first introduced into party politics, more or less as a democratic instrument to pry decision making from party bosses, primaries have been the gateway to general elections.
The 60-27 spread is a hurdle that would inspire second thoughts among most supermen politicians who are used to leaping tall buildings in a single bound. The spread among those in the state identifying themselves as “very conservative”, 81-14, is even more daunting.
Is it possible that Mr. Shays has agreed to play Rob Simmons to Mrs. McMahon in her second bid for the U.S. Senate?
Very early in the campaign for U.S. Senator Chris Dodd’s seat, Mr. Simmons was leading the senator in some polls. Mr. Dodd’s prospects had run aground on several sandbars, one of which involved a pricy cottage on an 11 acre spread in Ireland the senator bought for a song, only $160,000, along with William Kessinger, a business partner of Edward Downe. Mr. Dodd and Mr. Downe, who pleaded guilty to insider trading and securities fraud in 1993, once owned a Washington condominium in partnership. Before President Bill Clinton left the White House, Mr. Dodd successfully lobbied the president to secure friend Downe a pardon, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
Mrs. McMahon entered the race and was chosen as the nominee of her party at the Republican Party convention in Hartford, at which point Mr. Simmons, following party protocol, might have gracefully withdrawn. This he did not do.
Sensing a vulnerability in then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senatorial nominee, Mr. Simmons decided to primary Mrs. McMahon. Mr. Blumenthal had several times falsely claimed he served in the Vietnam War, an imposture exposed by Mrs. McMahon and the New York Times. Mr. Simmons had served honorably in Vietnam, and several political commentators thought at the time that Mr. Simmons would be able to exploit the issue much more effectively than Mrs. McMahon. Serving honorably in Vietnam for 19 months, Mr. Simmons had been awarded two Bronze Star Medals.
Conducting a poor man's campaign, Mr. Simmons put his active campaign on hold but left his name on the ballot, in effect imprisoning for the duration support that might have gone to Mrs. McMahon. And so Mr. Simmons hung in there and hung in there and hung in there, while Mr. Blumenthal hit the mattresses, hiding out from prying journalist and coasting into office on his reputation as the nation’s most fervent consumer protection ad-man. Mr. Simmons’ challenge was, shall we say, sporadic, but disabling enough to shuttle a few votes in the direction of the Democratic Party’s camp. Mr. Simmons’ malingering was no help to Republicans, who still wince whenever his name is mentioned in polite circles.
Recent elections have been career enders for once seemingly impregnable incumbent politicians: Mr. Dodd left the congressional premises more or less under an order to vacate issued by both Democrats and Republicans. Mr. Lieberman, still doubtful about who he may endorse for his soon to be vacated seat, has had his day. National Democrats in the U.S. House, palsied and unable to produce a budget during the years they enjoyed a veto proof margin in the U.S. Congress, were given the heave-ho in the last election and replaced by combative conservatives. Surely, the recent flow of politics suggests that voters have taken a dark view of professional politicians who have passed along to a generation of Americans a legacy of unsupportable debt and joblessness, not exactly what former President John Kennedy had in mind when he announced the passing of the torch to a new generation of nation builders.
One senses in the air the fragrant odor of Jeffersonian gunpowder: Said Tom Jefferson, very much in a revolutionary mood, “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.” The Jeffersonian spirit – “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” -- does not run hot in the veins of politicians who have spent a good part of their public lives in the middle of the road dodging commitments and principles.