Written by Juliana Simone
June 14, 2012
Storrs, CT – In a debate held by the CT Fox affiliate station and the Hartford Courant on Thursday morning, Linda McMahon and Christopher Shays the two Republican U.S. Senate candidates hoping to be on the Election Day ballot participated in an hour long debate at noon.
The 2012 Republican State Party nominee, Linda McMahon, was also the convention winner in 2010 after surprising many with staff getting delegates to switch their previous first round votes to take the nomination from former Congressman Rob Simmons who was the favored candidate. Simmons had consistent strong numbers statewide showing him as the most likely candidate to beat Democrat challenger Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. McMahon then went on to win the primary when Simmons chose not to actively campaign after the convention flip-flop but left his name on the ballot having qualified. Financial investor and tea party favorite Peter Schiff also appeared on the ballot having petitioned his way on through signatures. McMahon lost her bid for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Chris Dodd by 12% to Blumenthal.
Going into another Republican primary on August 14th, with her current opponent getting over 30% of the delegate votes at the May convention to qualify, this time the party nominee faces off against another former Congressman – the last New England Republican to hold a U.S. elected office, Christopher Shays, who has been endorsed by colleague Rob Simmons. After serving in the Connecticut legislature for twelve years, Shays served in the U.S. House of Representatives for twenty years after first being elected in 1987. While Chairman of the Budget Committee Shays was considered a fiscal hawk who uncovered sixty billion dollars of wasteful federal spending, fraud and abuse as well as taking on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae before it escalated to its melt down state in the early 2000’s. He was also heavily involved with the Homeland Security Committee and visited Iraq 21 times more than any legislator to support our troops and military efforts He lost his re-election to Congress in 2008 to democrat Jim Himes.
The clear winner of this debate to those not in the party fold was Shays.
On the many issues CT Fox news morning anchor Logan Byrnes, reporter Lori Perez and Courant columnist Charles Keating brought up, Shays clearly and easily addressed anything asked to him as a veteran legislator who obviously knows and understands policy. McMahon, better than she was in 2010 now having been coached for almost three years vs. one, still noticeably fell back on talking points well learned when challenged.
An interesting turn of events showed Shays as the aggressor, McMahon fans complained post debate, but many of these same supporters had no problem with her doing this repeatedly in every media opportunity against fine veteran and former Congressman Rob Simmons. The majority of her campaign in 2010 consisted of constant attack pieces against Simmons rather than Democrat Blumenthal that were delivered ad nauseam in Connecticut mailboxes. Now McMahonites cry foul when anyone points out anything negative about what they see as the perceived conservative in the race.
In terms of actual time, Shays only used a small portion of the broadcast to say anything unflattering about the World Wrestling Entertainment’s programming which is owned by Linda McMahon and her husband Vince. It is common in a debate to bring up something negative about an opponent’s background however brief. A long time Republican representative observed later on a social network Shays came off as angry. Assertive and grounded, yes. Angry, no. Annoyed, maybe for that small portion referred to above.
Why shouldn’t he be? Someone who has never served in public office or worked on federal legislation attacking his very long record for a few votes? Someone who never participated in her town committee or ran for state office telling a life long Republican she was the Republican and he was the Democrat? Shays rebutted smartly by bringing up her campaign contribution checks to high profile Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and then Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee Chair, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel. He asked if it was that important to McMahon when sending her second contribution to Pelosi that she remained Speaker of the House? He noted he has never made any donations to Democrat candidates (like any real Republican) and that her pandering for votes today in this debate by making promises to the middle class showed her already acting like a Democrat.
If the former Congressman’s challenger in this primary was another former congressman, or veteran state senator or Governor, Shays tone would most likely have been different and the debate would have been toothier in terms of differences on policy and issues from two experienced equals. Debating someone with no prior political office whose campaign used very negative campaigning against fellow Republican Rob Simmons in 2010 and is now sinking tens of millions of dollars into a second bid for this high office was probably not Shays idea of a true contender.
To say the background of a candidate is inconsequential is either purely naïve or opportunistically dismissive. Voters should consider the many facets of someone seeking public office when making their decision but this does not mean everyone judges candidates the same way.
Depending on constituencies, those seeking public office with things in their past not ideal to candidates, still can overcome them and be elected or re-elected. Take former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, for instance, who served more than one term despite a federal arrest after being taped using crack cocaine. In Connecticut, former State Senator Newton who was recently released from prison for illegal use of campaign funds was just endorsed as the democrat nominee for the same seat he lost in Bridgeport after having to resign. Even President Bill Clinton overcame many rumors and charges over his two terms in the White House with supporters and remains popular today.
But in other instances, heavy personal baggage won’t get you elected. Larry Flynt, a publisher of pornography, tried a run for President as a Republican and again for Governor in the California recall election of Gray Davis but failed, though he still came in the top ten out of well over 100 candidates. He recently offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove they had extramarital sex with Texas Governor Rick Perry. Things didn’t turn out too well for John Edwards either when news of his out of wedlock child squashed any hopes for a Presidential or Vice Presidential bid. Former House Speaker Tom Delay ended his career after being convicted of money laundering. Shays was an advocate of his resigning. These examples show how voters are capable of sometimes forgiving their elected officials mistakes and sometimes they’re not at all.
Though Linda McMahon’s company has received much attention for the televised wrestling matches that were aired for years which had many controversial scenes, a federal steroids investigation and various lawsuits from wrestlers, this has not stopped her from being perceived twice by the Connecticut GOP as their best choice for a U.S. Senate candidate. Both McMahon’s staff and her party enthusiasts do their best to dismiss this background and brand her as a hard working mother and grandmother who was once poor who now just wants to serve her constituents.
A Connecticut reporter, Chris Powell, was recently threatened in a legal letter to be sued for libel by McMahon’s attorneys for writing in his newspaper column the following: “Her practical qualifications for office did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunchy.”
The Journal Inquirer, who Powell writes for, has now filed a complaint with the Federal Election Committee claiming the WWE has violated federal election law with this threat to try and silence them. Their complaint contains the following:
[WWE Senior Vice President Brian] Flinn demanded that the JI retract Powell’s commentary by today or the corporation would “seek legal and all available remedies.” Through its lawyer, Richard P. Weinstein of West Hartford, the JI refused the demand last week.
In the newspaper’s complaint to the FEC, Publisher Elizabeth S. Ellis said the WWE’s threat “meant to discourage our right to comment on Mrs. McMahon.”
Similarly, Weinstein said the only purpose of Flinn’s letter was “to use WWE to defend the candidate and to seek to have a chilling effect on journalists in Connecticut who might otherwise criticize Linda McMahon during her campaign.”
McMahon’s attorneys also sent a copy of this letter to every other news outlet in the state which can be interpreted as either issuing the same warning for any publication that wants to exercise its freedom of speech and criticize the candidate or that there were simply using it like a press release which would still arguable get the same results. McMahon’s attorneys countered they were defending their businesses reputation.
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Others have described the content of some videos as violent towards women. Any search engine on the Internet can pull up dozens of these for example though a few more controversial videos were removed during the 2010 campaign. This led the CT Democrat Party to file a complaint with the FEC saying the videos were removed from YouTube to help the McMahon campaign. In 2008, WWE did change its parental guidance rating for TV-14 to PG and softened the aired content but long time fans saw it as a calculated move pre-candidacy.
When Christopher Shays brought up how one of the Democrat Party’s talking points in the media this election cycle was Republican’s ‘war on women’ he asked if the violence in the rings of WWE wasn’t war on women? His insights that McMahon was not the type of representative we wanted from Connecticut in Washington, D.C. are shared by many other voters in Connecticut, especially women, where her polling numbers still show she is very weak despite campaign strategies in 2012 to target this group.
In terms of McMahon, she has only been able to repeatedly point out a few unfavorable votes her two former congressional opponents made while in office out of thousands, as their negatives. There is nothing else about their background one could refer to since they are respectable gentleman. Simmons is a decorated war veteran who has a long history of serving his country with valor. Shays is a rational soft spoken man who has an MBA and served in the Peace Corps. Both men are still in love with their wives they’ve each been with since high school, and have no domestic scandals. Hardly good targets for
The ‘card check’ vote that Shays made and is now constantly reminded of by McMahon and her campaign literature as Simmons was in 2010, was a bad vote Shay’s said. Both former congressmen say they would not vote for it again. Shays voting for ‘the bridge to nowhere’ which McMahon also brought up during the debate gave Shays the opportunity to say Mrs. McMahon didn’t understand Washington and legislation and how it works, and went on to explain ‘the bridge to nowhere’ bill was a very large bill that he signed because it contained many good things, but once the bill was itemized and singular items were voted on, he voted against the ‘bridge to nowhere.’ Shays suggested his opponent needed to look further into voting records and how final votes were recorded before just stopping with what could be used against someone in a campaign.
As throughout 2010, McMahon reiterated that she is a ‘job creator.’ In her profession, yes, and now also with her campaign staffs. The popular “I’m a businessman not a politician” slogan seen used by many self-funded candidates now running for federal office, is not hole free argument wise. Understandable in the current poor economy and with high unemployment this philosophy that Washington needs more business people to straighten things out has some appeal.
On a closer look, however, what does a business person know about the political process since none of these candidates have ever held previous office and many have never even sat on their party town committees to at least learn the process of municipal elections? Their primary focus has been building their business and making it successful, but that makes them experts in the field their company is in not politics and the machinations of government.
This is why joining a party town committee, running for smaller offices, working at the Capitol, sitting on local boards, or serving in the state legislature are such important learning tools to prepare one to properly serve in Washington, D.C. at the federal level. This environment teaches legislators who come from all kinds of professions, how to propose bills, write legislation, serve on committees, work with their caucus, deal with the other party effectively, and know their constituents.
Successful business owners are most likely quite knowledgeable about laws that affect their companies. This makes up for some of the absence of political background on their resumes for voters. The downside to this fact bears the question then as high powered United States legislators would they maintain needed objectivity when bills came before them that would affect how well their companies performed or the profits they make? Would they mingle with lobbyists who could be instrumental to their own needs as business CEO’s? Unethical career politicians have always been labeled with favoring legislation for personal profit, but honorable ones who don’t end up with millions in the bank when leaving office, are only there to serve their state’s residents best interest. It’s hard to say whether business entrepreneurs-turned-elected-officials wouldn’t have its own share of those taking advantage of the system for personal gain.
Term limits, the popular issue in town hall forums and town committee meetings, sounds logical especially when this concept is tied in to the constitution and our Fore Fathers original intent of brief service before returning home to one’s prior career and family. But life expectancy wasn’t very long at the time our founders wrote about this subject either. People back then who were asked to serve their Country in federal government were all land owners and commonly men of wealth who were familiar with law and the effects it had on our national security, economy and rights for civilians.
Today, as just passed by the Democrat majority in our state of Connecticut, one doesn’t even need a photo I.D. to vote so someone of this caliber probably isn’t too prepped for a seat on the United States Congress or Senate. The successes business owners achieved in the private sector must explain why they feel they have the right to go directly to the higher realms of federal service without fulfilling any lower office first. It’s a different mindset which may or may not work, most likely depending on the actual candidate. There is a flaw to this method, however, in that it’s similar to a first year med student saying he or she wants to be appointed Chief Surgeon at Cedars Sinai without finishing their degree, internship or residency.
Still, a few of these candidates seem more primed on foreign policy and how government operates than others who have been working with coaches, but since Washington D.C is known for being a club of sorts where everyone knows each other like in any other field, where do these candidates fit in if elected? How do they break in never having served with any of their colleagues before in any capacity? Some have even said during events and debates they’re not always going to vote with their caucus because they’re going to vote for what they believe is right. That’s noteworthy but not always popular. Ask Chris Shays.
The former Congressman seeking the U.S. Senate Republican candidacy on primary day often takes heat by detractors for only voting with his caucus around 77% of the time. He admits this to be true but emphasizes there was always a reason. Probably right and something any legislator would have to face at some point when holding a federal seat.
Shays, born in Connecticut, also gets quibbling about his moving out of state after losing his congressional seat in 2008. If moving away for a few years disqualifies someone for running for office after serving their state’s constituents for over twenty years, this would create a long list of people who could no longer run for public office.
Hillary Clinton is the premiere example of carpet bagging a state for quick election into the D.C. arena. Hungry to maintain power and influence in our nation’s capitol, she plunked down money on a house in New York so she could file as a candidate for the U.S. Senate after her husband retired from the Oval Office. The majority of New Yorkers didn’t mind she was new to their state or how obvious her motive was and most likely ultimately found it opportunistic to have the former First Lady be there representative in Washington. Suddenly Mrs. Clinton was seen at Yankees Games, the Belmont Stakes annual horse race, the Hamptons, and upstate New York convincing New York voters she’s been doing this all her life and was now more New York than anyone born and raised here.
In 2010, Linda McMahon was considered an outsider not because she and her husband didn’t move to Connecticut until 1983 after living in North Carolina, Maryland and Massachusetts, but because she had no prior political affiliation with Connecticut Republicans except for a recent two year appointment to the State Board of Education by Governor Jodi M. Rell of which she completed one year. Her appointment to the State Board of Ed was not without controversy as many parents wrote editorials to their newspapers saying they did not believe she was the best choice due to her business background. The Connecticut General Assembly did ask her about her record as the CEO of the WWE before confirming her where she received more support from the Senate than the House. Others saw her as an outsider in more simple terms as someone with money trying to buy herself a prestigious title in Washington. Now in 2012, she has become the party favorite due to variety of reasons.
Conservatives maintain talk radio king Rush Limbaugh’s argument that if only a true conservative were the GOP nominee and not a moderate, we would see a Republican get elected regardless of how ‘blue’ a state is. 2012 presents another opportunity for these theorists to prove this hypothesis correct with many conservatives running for Congressional seats. In the most perceived conservative congressional district in Connecticut, the fifth, the Republican Party offered two candidates to delegates, Justin Bernier and Mark Greenberg, who ran under this platform in 2012 as well as in 2010. Both received the least amount of votes at the State Convention each election and are once again going to primary the nominee. This went to moderate and long serving State Senator Andrew Roraback (R-30). The other moderate, Lisa Wilson-Foley received the second most votes after three rounds. (Another, Mike Clark) dropped out pre-convention due to a crowded field and little support left to go around and endorsed Roraback.)
The 2012 Republican State Convention also had two conservative U.S. Senate candidates for delegates to choose from – Peter Lumaj and Kie Westby. Neither received the required 15% of votes to be put on the primary ballot. Only McMahon and Shays qualified, with McMahon now being billed as the conservative by party insiders and Shays, a proclaimed moderate. The third of the five U.S. Senate candidates, Brian K. Hill, more of a moderate, tried to petition his way on to the ballot through signatures but suspended his campaign after failing to get the required amount.
The 2010 fifth congressional party nominee, State Senator Sam Caligiuri, who also ran as a conservative having to compete for the nomination with four other candidates running strongly under this brand, lost by 7% to democrat incumbent Congressman Chris Murphy who is now seeking the same U.S. Senate Seat as McMahan and Shays after his primary. Other conservative Republicans who tossed their hats into the ring that year, like U.S. Senate candidate Vinny Forras, failed to make the required 15% delegate count at the convention. Daria Novak, a former D.C. staffer who ran as a conservative did win the convention but then failed to win the primary over late entry former network affiliate anchor Janet Peckinpaugh.
To be fair, moderates like Peckinpaugh also lost their congressional bids to democrat incumbents in 2010. Peckinpaugh failed to acquire more votes than Joe Courtney and soon after also failed to win a state representative seat against a popular Democrat First Selectman. Current Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola, Jr. received the least amount of votes in the third district against long time incumbent Rosa DeLauro. State Senator Dan Debicella, a Harvard grad from a working class family, also lost to incumbent Jim Himes in the fourth who succeeded Chris Shays in 2008, but Debicella came the closest out of the five districts to any of the Democrat representatives. Newcomer and engineer Ann Brickley also left entrenched Congressman John Larson in the first.
In terms of state seats, some inroads were made for the CT GOP both in the House and the Senate by both Republican conservatives and moderates. So the question remains – on the federal level, in the Nutmeg and/or Constitution State, can a Republican win a U.S. Senate election when one has not been occupied in thirty years, conservative or moderate? People should also consider a candidate’s actual lifestyle and history despite designated labels to determine what kind of person they are beyond voting records or campaign personas shown in literature.
Christopher Shays was the last Republican to win any federal seat in all of the north east and he is a moderate. McMahon, dubbed conservative among her supporters, has held no prior office but with almost a hundred million dollars spent on her two election bids, she has the best name recognition among CT voters – for better or worse.
A recent respected Quinnipiac poll showed McMahon’s numbers uptick dramatically from their dismal showing pre-convention which put her as much as 15 points under Murphy (D-5) the presumed challenger. The latest results show her to be only a few points behind now. Shays at the same time in March was the closest in the polls to being neck and neck with the U.S. representative, dropped from a few points behind to eight points among registered voters. McMahon’s gains now brought her closer to Murphy and she still holds a strong lead among registered Republicans over Shays.
A seasoned political consultant and source told Ameriborn News this was to be expected. “One candidate out of four (two Republicans, two Democrats competing on the August 14th primary for the voters judgment of who should be on the ballot) spending a few million dollars on television ads versus three candidates spending zero.” He believes this will change and McMahon’s numbers will change dramatically again once the other candidates have raised money and start their own television ads to get their message and name across to residents.
Christopher Shays has made a sound argument speaking to the public on this campaign trail. He suggests Linda McMahon has already introduced herself to the Connecticut voters – spending fifty million dollars to do so in 2010 on her first bid for a U.S. Senate seat. He adds the voters rejected her then by twelve percent against a democrat challenger who was not without his flaws. He wonders why McMahon thinks now spending tens of millions more will change their minds. From Shays perspective, he says he has won 18 elections and only lost one. McMahon has won none.
On an afternoon talk radio show in Connecticut the other day, hosted by former Governor John Rowland, a caller said to Rowland in re McMahon maybe we just needed to vote for someone with good common sense. It’s a matter of perspective but most voters probably don’t view spending almost 100 million dollars on two bids for a U.S. Senate seat as an example of good common sense. Christopher Shays, as the former fiscal hawk in Congress probably has more of this in terms of dollars and sense. Heavily taxed Connecticut residents should consider this analysis.
It seems a sad statement that anyone with one hundred million dollars to spend can become a U.S. Senator regardless of any prior experience. Short cuts don’t traditionally work. Rather than using money to gain political name recognition, plain determination, community service and elected offices over time earn voters respect and can get a candidate the same end goal.
Connecticut Republicans have not had a party member in the U.S. Senate since 1988 and last managed to elect as their representative Lowell Weicker in 1970. Weicker is best known for implementing Connecticut’s state income tax as a one term Governor who promised voters if elected he would never do so. Extremely unpopular after he did just what he told constituents he would not, he did not seek a second term and endorsed the Democrat challenger. In the 2004 Presidential elections, Weicker’s choice was Vermont’s Howard Dean. In recent television interviews he’s said the most important thing to him these days is seeing President Obama get re-elected. Weicker met nominee Linda McMahon during the Special Olympics and later served on her company’s board of directors for fifteen years before stepping down in 2011.
Perhaps Connecticut Republican’s will have to acknowledge this fall the only kind of Republican candidates able to be seated in the U.S. Senate these days are those who support democrats financially and through endorsements. Perhaps the Connecticut Party will once again choose the wrong candidate to endorse and a Democrat will be elected. Perhaps the Connecticut voter will come out on August 14th and make different choices that will make this a whole different race. It is time for the voter, especially the unaffiliated voter of whom there are the most of in Connecticut, to get out and vote and make an educated decision. A few things to consider:
- Democrat versus Republican: Democrats gave us Obama who tripled our nation’s debt and whines about the much smaller debt he inherited almost daily, and Governor Malloy who added more new taxes to our state than any Governor in history. Republicans should clearly win on this choice.
- Career politicians versus term limits. Voters need to decide if a lifetime of public service when it is honorable and without corruption is a good thing or a bad thing and if it should be seen as any profession where one does this for a career throughout their lifetime – or if two or three terms of service before retiring bring better law and results to taxpayers.
- Political Experience versus Business Experience: People going to the polls both on primary day and Election Day should determine if working ones way up the old fashioned way through the ranks of their political party and bringing that knowledge into public office or if going right to the top with no prior service but with a successful background owning a company is preferable.
- Conservative versus Moderate: Voters from either party will need to think about both fiscal and social issues and which candidate represents them more in terms of their personal views both on primary day and Election Day. Republicans are usually clear on whether they’re a conservative or moderate which largely is determined by social issues. For Democrats the difference is between the blue dog or moderate democrats and the limousine liberals and big government advocates who have taken over their party for some time. Democrats should choose on primary day the candidate they feel represents their faction best and shares their same vision for the future of this country.
On Election Day, all of Connecticut needs to vote for the candidates who are the most likely to return America to its full glory – whether they’re returning to serve effectively with proficiency once again or embarking on a new career venture with vigor and commitment.