In a meeting with the Editorial Board of the Danbury News Times, Republican Party Senate hopeful Chris Shays told editors on Tuesday “he will take his fight for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate to an August primary,” perhaps not the most useful way to influence Republican Party convention delegates to choose him to represent the party in what promises to be an expensive and contentious battle for a U.S. Senate seat presently held by Joe Lieberman.
Mr. Shays had done the math. “Only 25 percent of voters in Connecticut are Republicans,” Mr. Shays says, “and only 20 percent of them vote. So now 5 percent of the electorate are (sic) going to vote in the Republican primary, and of that 5 percent, 2½ percent plus one are going to decide. … We know who those 150,000 voters are who are going to vote and we can target them and make our best case.”
The worry among Republicans is that Mr. Shays' promised primary, should nominating conventioneers once again choose party competitor Linda McMahon as their nominee, will serve only to cripple the chosen nominee of the party in the general election. Former U.S. Representative Rob Simmons hobbled Mrs. McMahon in her congressional battle against present U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal with an on-again off-again post-nominating convention struggle for the seat. Assuming that Mrs. McMahon once again is chosen by the Republican Party nominating convention to represent the GOP in the general election, Mr. Shays is likely to face the same difficulty in mounting an effective primary campaign as did Mr. Simmons, whose primary effort sputtered because he was unable to raise sufficient funds to mount a serious primary campaign.
On the Democratic side of the campaign barricades, none of the possible candidates vying for Mr. Lieberman’s seat have announced this early in the campaign that they would primary should the Democratic Party nominating convention disappoint them. The likely choice among Democrats attending the nominating convention is present U.S. Representative Chris Murphy who, as an incumbent, will have loads of cash at his disposal in any general election campaign.
As Connecticut’s media never tires of reminding us, Mrs. McMahon’s previous campaign against Mr. Blumenthal -- who was perhaps unbeatable, despite Mr. Simmons’ boast that he could have bested the sainted former attorney general in a general election – was not a sure shot, despite the large sum of money she invested in her campaign. Money does not always guarantee election, but it is very nearly certain that a lack of funds with which to wage a viable general campaign against a popular incumbent U.S. Representative will bend a campaign arc downwards. And the same holds true of internecine primary campaigns.
Political parties have become much poorer campaign financers after campaign finance reforms – written by John McCain and Russ Feingold in the U.S. Senate and Chris Shays and Marty Meehan in the U.S. House – were passed into law. The reforms, as well as a later Supreme Court decision apparently unanticipated by the authors of campaign reform, effectively moved campaign financing from political parties to now notorious Super PACs. If Democratic incumbent Murphy is not presently supported by a Super Pac, he almost certainly will be in any general election campaign against any non-incumbent Republican opponent. Given the disparity in campaign resources between Mr. Murphy and any Republican Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, it would be nearly impossible in a general election for a poorly financed Republican to prevail against a money magnet incumbent.
In the meantime, some Republican Town Committees have shown a cold shoulder to Mr. Shays.
In Coventry, according to Mr. Shays, he was shown the door because Republicans already had already “locked into McMahon, and I’m told not to come even to their Lincoln Day dinner.” And in Trumbull, where Ronald Reagan’s thirteenth commandment is rigorously observed, the chairman, according to Mr. Shays, “said I would not be allowed to say anything negative about my opponent. They don’t want me to confront them with why they shouldn’t be supporting McMahon.”
Certainly, a large part of this frigidity may be related to Mr. Shays’ pledge, prior to the Republican nominating convention, to wage a primary campaign. One hardly expects delegates to a nominating convention, some of whom are associated with Town Committees, to cuddle emotionally with a possible Republican Party nominee who has told them: You know what? Why don’t you just can your pointless nominating convention, since I plan to render inoperative in a primary campaign any decisions you may make at your silly convention.
Mr. Shays may have begun his general campaign a trifle early. This is not the best way to win Republican friends and influence people whose energetic support you may need in a general campaign.