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Posted 7/23/12

"Senate Follies"

GOP Senate Hopeful Chris Shays
GOP Senate Hopeful Chris Shays
Photo by Steve Kotchko

The Connecticut primaries to settle the Democratic and Republican nominations for U.S. Senate are set for August 14th, and last week it appeared that the record-setting heat in the state may have made all the combatants just a little woozy as evidenced by the wacky turns the campaigns took.

On the Republican side, rivals Linda McMahon and Christopher Shays battled it out in what will likely be their last TV debate of the primary campaign. Underdog Shays opined later it could be the last debate of his political career.

In the TV tilt, Shays again tried to say McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), isn't really qualified to be a United States Senator. He criticized the way the WWE, under McMahon's leadership, treated women.

"I am troubled that we have a candidate (McMahon) who professes to care about women and then chooses to have on her programs women stripping down to their underwear," Shays said. "I wouldn't want (Playboy founder) Hugh Hefner as a United States Senator and I wouldn't want Linda McMahon." Shays concluded: "It is not right to say you care about women and run a program that degrades women."

McMahon, whose loss in the 2010 U.S. Senate race against Democrat Richard Blumenthal, was due in part to her weak support among women voters, this time around has made a special effort to talk to women's groups to improve her standing. However, instead of lashing back against Shays, McMahon chose not to engage.

She simply replied: "Congressman Shays, you always get tied up in the Hollywood scripting of the WWE—and as usual you have your facts wrong." McMahon never explained exactly what facts Shays had wrong.

Several times during the debate, Shays intimated that his rival was an empty suit, a candidate intent on winning a Senate seat, but without much experience or knowledge about the job. "She has been in an arena (wrestling) that is a make-believe arena," said Shays. "All the meetings she has are scripted, this debate is scripted—it's sad," Shays said.

"What I have been spending my time doing is to continue to meet with the people of Connecticut," McMahon replied. "I learn more from them and it gives them an opportunity to talk to me." The candidate said voters "continue to complain to me that they're tired of hearing the same old rhetoric from the career politicians in Washington."

Indeed, McMahon likes to portray Shays as one of those careerists. Shays was a Republican congressman from Fairfield County for many years, before he was knocked off in the 2008 elections—at the time, the last GOP congressman still standing in New England.

"This (the Senate race) is an opportunity to make sure we aren't continuing to send the same careeer politicians back to Washington who've created the mess that we are in," said McMahon.

Shays doesn't see his tenure in the U.S. House as a negative. "I have had 21 years experience, knowing what to do, and knowing how to get (the job) done," he explained. "I'm not looking for a career," said Shays, "but what I am looking to do is take advantage of all the listening, learning, helping, and leading that I did."

Democratic Senate Candidate Susan Bysiewicz
Democratic Senate Candidate Susan Bysiewicz
Photo by Steve Kotchko

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side of the Senate campaign, a "he said, she said" battled erupted after underdog candidate Susan Bysiewicz put out a new TV campaign ad that claimed that the front-runner in the Democratic Senate race, U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-CT), took in "more hedge fund money than any other Democrat in Congress."

Since the start of her rivalry with Murphy, Bysiewicz, apparently trying to show she is different from Murphy, has portrayed him as the party "establishment" candidate, and a Democrat with an attraction to Wall Street money for his campaign.

When the hedge fund-related ad surfaced, the Murphy campaign quickly challenged its accuracy. Murphy's spokesman Ben Marter claimed the commercial was flat out false, and suggested it should be lifted immediately. At one point, the Murphy campaign charged the Bysiewicz researchers actually had focused on the wrong Murphy—namely Rep. Scott Murphy of New York, who reportedly was the top Democratic beneficiary of hedge fund money in 2010.

One wag on Twitter added a little levity to the debate by suggesting that "The Confusing Murphys" would be a great name for a pop group.

The Bysiewicz crew saw no humor in the claim that they'd analyzed the campaign finances of the wrong Congressman Murphy. Yet as time wore on, Jonathan Ducote, Bysiewicz' campaign manager began to qualify the "more hedge fund money than any other Democrat" charge, by stating that in 2008, Chris Murphy was the "4th largest recipient of hedge fund contributions." Ducote said if Murphy thinks that ranking is OK, then "it clearly shows he has gone Washington."

Bysiewicz herself said it is "absolutely accurate that Chris Murphy took over $700,000 from Wall Street sources" and she claimed his campaign was complaining about her TV ad because "Mr. Murphy is looking for any technicality possible to attack my ad because he cannot defend these facts."

The Murphy campaign said the ridiculousness of Bysiewicz's attempt to brand Murphy as a Wall Street tool is evidenced in the strong endorsements their candidate has received from labor groups including the state AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, and others.

All this wrangling will come to an end when the August 14th primaries allow party members to officially select their nominees. However, then the state will be set for the general election battle in the U.S Senate race, and you can bet it won't be a polite affair.

Follow Steve Kotchko on Twitter for news and insider tidbits on politics and government@CRN_News