Posted 8/20/12

On To November

Victory Spin
U.S Rep. Chris Murphy

Photo by Steve Kotchko

More than a decade ago, state party nominating conventions were held in the summer, primaries (if they occurred) were held in September, and the general public had to endure a political campaign season that lasted just a few months in the fall.

Election reform forever altered the political calendar.  Conventions were pushed up to May, and the primaries (now very common) are held in mid-August, supposedly because the parties felt September gave winning candidates too little time to regroup for the fall campaigns.

In the process, the campaign season has been transformed into a year-long saga.  Let's face it.  We've all been watching campaign attack ads ad nauseam for months with plenty on the way before Election Day in November.

Just witness last week's primaries.  Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Christopher Murphy were their party’s respective winners in the top contest in Connecticut this year--the race for U.S. Senate.  Instead of taking a vacation and waiting until after Labor Day to start their fall campaigns, the two winners were at each other's throats the day after the primary.

Murphy challenged McMahon to debate him this week, arguing that voters need to hear the candidates’ views on key issues right now.  McMahon called the Democrat's challenge nothing more than a "political stunt" and said she'd be happy to engage is a series of debates "in the bright spotlight of the fall campaign", not in late August.

Both Senate campaigns went on the air with tough TV ads last week and you can expect that pattern to continue until Election Day.  Murphy warned he was "going to be buried" by McMahon's campaign spending, and said he'd likely rely on the media to get his message out.  Translation: expect a lot of Murphy press conferences on issues, what the campaign wonks like to call "free media" because of the news coverage the tactic generates.

While the Senate primary was the only statewide contest last week, the results with McMahon and Murphy as the winners were fully expected.  The surprise, of sorts, came in the 5th Congressional District Democratic primary that pitted State House Speaker Chris Donovan, against former state representative Elizabeth Esty, and newcomer Dan Roberti.

When that contest first started up, Donovan was the clear frontrunner.  Most observers figured he could put the campaign on cruise control and glide to an easy primary win.  Donovan was Speaker, and had the strong support of labor unions.  All that changed when the FBI busted Donovan's hired gun campaign fundraiser on alleged influence peddling claims, and hiding the true source of campaign contributions.

As the campaign moved toward primary day, more former Donovan campaign types were arrested in the scandal, along with "roll your own" cigarette shop owners, who allegedly wanted the Speaker's help in killing a bill that would tax their businesses.

Donovan was not charged and said he did nothing wrong, but instead of coming out strong, answering all questions, the Speaker issued minimal statements, and sprinted away from reporters a la Usain Bolt at the Olympics.  Donovan said he didn't want to mess up the FBI probe, but voters apparently didn't like the cloud over his head.  Democrats gave Esty the nomination on primary day.

Silent Chris is mum on one more possibility--the prospect he might stay in the congressional race by keeping the endorsement of a minor party, the Working Families Party, a labor-oriented entity.

Top Democrats don't like that scenario and will likely try to persuade Donovan to drop his campaign completely in deference to Esty.  If Donovan ran as a third party nominee, it's unlikely he could win, but he could siphon off enough Democratic votes to hurt Esty in her bid to beat GOP nominee State Sen. Andrew Rorarack (R-Goshen) for the congressional seat.

The 5th District is important to both parties because it is only congressional district truly up for grabs.  The other four are held by Democratic incumbents that most observers feel are favored for easy reelection.

There was one other congressional primary last week.  East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica defeated Daria Novak to gain the Republican congressional nomination in the 2nd District.  Formica will run against Democratic incumbent Joseph Courtney for the Eastern Connecticut U.S. House seat.

Winners and losers emerge from all primaries, but for some veteran Connecticut politicians their defeats could mark the end of their careers in elective politics.  If Donovan decides against continuing his congressional bid as the Working Families candidate, it will be the end of a charmed legislative career that began in 1992, and included stints as a committee chair and House Majority Leader before reaching the top office of House Speaker.

Susan Bysiewicz lost to Murphy in the Democratic Senate primary, and one wonders what she can do next in politics because she's already run for governor, attorney general, and senator without success, ruffling a lot of feathers along the way inside her own party.            

As for Shays, who lost to McMahon, he told the Connecticut Radio Network before his defeat in the primary that he is not closing the door to another run for some public office in the future.  So you could say the Shays rebellion continues.

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