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Chris Shays’ Face The State Appearance With Dennis House: Keeping It Real

In the course of his interview with former State Rep. Chris Shays, host of Face the State Dennis House pressed Mr. Shays on a series of issues. A transcript of portions of the interview follows below, accompanied by some Connecticut Commentary notes.

Dennis House (DH): So, you’re planning on a primary, regardless of the convention in May, right?

Chris Shays (CS): There will be a primary. If I win the convention, I assume others will want to primary; and if I don’t win the convention, I’m in a primary.

This is a pretty straightforward declaration of Shays’ intentions. It is not altogether certain that Linda McMahon would primary should Mr. Shays be declared the Republican convention nominee. In her last run for the U.S. Senate, Mrs. McMahon snatched the convention nomination from former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who went on to wage an on-again off again campaign against her.

DH: If you lose in a primary, would you run as an independent?

CS: Well, I don’t think about losing, but I’m running as a Republican. And that is what I’ve always done. I have always been a Republican; have never been on another line, always helping my fellow Republicans in their elections, working harder for those I believe in, being respectful for those I am maybe not as excited about…

Mr. House was not satisfied with the non-answer. Independent campaigns are not unusual in Connecticut. Former Republican U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, turned away by his party in a re-election campaign, later started his own party and ran for election as governor as an independent. Current Senator Joe Lieberman, who managed to defeat Mr. Weicker with some help from Weicker-whipped Republicans, later lost a primary campaign to Ned Lamont. Mr. Lieberman then went on to wage an independent campaign and retained his seat.

Mr. House tried again with a follow-up question.

DH: So, you’re ruling it out, a [potential] independent run?

CS: What I am saying to you is I can’t imagine doing that.
Mr. House pressed on.

DH: If Mrs. McMahon wins the primary, will you support her in the general election?

CS: Depends on how she wins it.

DH: What do you mean?

CS: Well, it depends if she runs an honest and fair race. If she attempts to do to me what she did to Rob Simmons, good luck. I mean, what she did to Rob Simmons was outrageous.

DH: You’re saying she was dishonest in that campaign?

CS: I’m saying what she did was outrageous – accusing him of being a big spender. This guy wasn’t a big spender – accusing him of a lot of things that he wasn’t, and not recognizing that he was a good and honorable man who served his country with incredible distinction. So, the answer to your question is: I don’t intend to lose. But the question will be: How do you conduct a race?

These charges require additional close questioning. Mr. Shays’ notion of outrageous campaign behavior is a little severe. There were no dramatic groin kicks in Mrs. McMahon's campaign against Mr. Simmons. Generally, one is not in the habit of bestowing compliments upon opponents in campaigns.

The Hartford Courant certainly was not in Mrs. McMahon’s corner before, during or after the Republican nominating convention. The paper’s report on the convention mentions no outrageous declarations damaging to Mr. Simmons on Mrs. McMahon’s part. The paper did note, however:

“The battle between Simmons and McMahon was notable for its acrimony. Simmons made character an issue, consistently questioning the sexually graphic and violent content promoted by the WWE, as well as the use of steroids within the industry.

“McMahon played up her outsider credentials. ‘Linda has not spent her life in politics,’ said Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham, who seconded McMahon's nomination. ‘If the people of Connecticut want a career politician, they'd just send Chris Dodd back for a sixth term.’”

The paper also mentioned an uncharacteristic reversal in Mr. Simmons’ pledge not to pursue a primary should Mrs. McMahon win the Republican nomination.

“Throughout most of the campaign, Simmons had repeated stated his intention of dropping out of the race if he did not win the backing of convention delegates. But on Friday night [when Mrs. McMahon secured the nomination], Simmons said he would wage a primary.”

In a story filed a month earlier, the Courant noted that Mr. Simmons took up a cudgel Democrats had effectively weilded against Mrs. McMahon:

“After months of relying on campaign surrogates to attack chief rival Linda McMahon, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rob Simmons publicly questioned the character of the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO, who is also seeking the GOP nomination.

“Simmons stood on the north steps of the state Capitol before a half-dozen reporters and cataloged what he called McMahon's lack of credibility and disrespect for the law. He blasted her for painting herself as a political outsider when her company has spent a million dollars on Washington lobbyists. He said her answer to a questionnaire in connection with her appointment to the State Board of Education constitutes a lie.

“And, most significantly, Simmons cited McMahon's role in a federal investigation into steroid use by professional wrestlers. According to a 1989 memo obtained by both The Day of New London and the Politico website, McMahon tipped off a Pennsylvania doctor about the impending investigation.

“Said Simmons, ‘These are the actions of someone who does not respect the law and it leaves one to ask the question: How can you write the laws if you don't feel bound by them?’

“McMahon was never charged with any crime in connection with the incident. McMahon spokesman Ed Patru accused Simmons of trading in ‘the politics of personal destruction’ and said his charges are a desperate move by a candidate whose public approval numbers had fallen sharply”
Mr. House was curious what a Shays campaign against his likely Democratic opponant, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, might be like.
DH: What do you think of Congressman Chris Murphy in the race?

CS: You know what, you’ll have to ask him.

This answer visibly stunned Mr. House. His appropriate follow-up question has a “Say what?” flavor to it.

DH: Well, what do you think? You’re going to have to run against him.

CS: But you know what, I’m not going to talk about him. I’m not going to talk about … I’d be happy to tell you this: the job that the president has done, and the Democratic congress, has been outrageous…. We have a congress that is not facing up to what we have to do, and I put Chris Murphy in there with others.

Three possibilities suggest themselves: Either Mr. Shays had not yet had a chance to review Mr. Murphy’s record in office as a prelude to his campaign, perfectly understandable since Mr. Shays had only recently filed campaign papers; or Mr. Shays felt that any attack on Mr. Murphy would be, at this early point in his contest, premature; or he felt it would be strategically inappropriate to show his hand to Mr. Murphy before he disposed of Ms. McMahon either in the Republican nominating convention or in a primary.

DH: You were the last republican congressman in New England when you left. Do you think the state has gone too far left to elect another Republican?

CS: Oh, absolutely. The problem with this state is that it doesn’t understand economics; the legislature just doesn’t get it. They don’t understand they’re chasing away wealth. They don’t understand that they’re chasing away employers. We have not had a net job increase in 20 years.

It should be pointed out that Mr. Shays is answering only one barrel of Mr. Houses’ double barreled question. Mr. Shays does not “absolutely” believe that a Republican cannot be elected in a state that has drifted so far to the left; otherwise, he would not be putting himself to the trouble of waging either a nominating convention contest or a primary campaign against a Republican candidate who may or may not be chosen by the leaders of his party to represent them in the U.S. Congress. Given Mr. Shays' answers above to Mr. Houses' probing questions, one may assume Mr. Shays would be loathed to initiate an independent run for the senate. As a faithful long term Republican, Mr. Shays has strongly implied he would be reluctant to wage a campaign against he congressional nominee of his party.


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