Shays pitches experience in Conn. Senate battle
MADISON, Conn.—Former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays knows the polls, pundits and his campaign purse-strings don't favor him in next month's Republican Senate primary, but he is holding out hope that his Washington experience will help carry him to a victory.
As he touts his work as a legislator -- Shays told The Associated Press that his first TV ad, which highlights his record, will start running Thursday -- he is also painting his GOP rival Linda McMahon, a wealthy former wrestling executive, as scripted and unqualified in a race that he increasingly seems to be taking personally.
The Republican and Democratic primaries Aug. 14 will narrow down the choices for a successor to U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent who is retiring.
Shays last week told the New Haven Register's editorial board that he's never run against a candidate he has respected less than McMahon, the GOP's endorsed candidate.
"She is amazingly clueless about the issues. That just surprised me," Shays told the AP on Wednesday as he prepared to greet commuters at the Madison train station. "She doesn't know the issues and she's not willing to engage people. Everything is staged."
He later added: "It is offensive."
Shays' wife of 44 years, Betsi, said she understands her husband's frustration with McMahon, who has never held elected public office.
"This is our 35th year in public life. During that time, we have really tried to stand for something. And when you're in a campaign that seems to operate on a very different set of principles, that can be pretty challenging to your sense of things," Betsi Shays said.
While she would not say which principles she believes McMahon is operating under, Betsi Shays said her husband has not shied away from tough issues and has been accessible to constituents and the media.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for McMahon, said he's seen a change in Shays' demeanor.
"I don't know what's in his mind, but certainly if you watch and pay attention to the tenor of his comments over the course of the last few weeks, he has grown increasingly shrill, which makes it all the more sad that he's going out in a ball of flames," he said.
Murtaugh said he doesn't think Shays' effort to sell his experience in Washington will help him in the Aug. 14 primary.
"It's pretty clear that people in Connecticut and across America are sick and tired of career politicians," he said.
A June 6 Quinnipiac Poll indicated that Connecticut voters aren't necessarily looking for a candidate with Capital Beltway experience. Fifty-four percent of registered voters said they preferred an "outsider" candidate, while 35 percent said they preferred someone with Washington experience.
Many of McMahon's supporters have said they like the fact she used to be the CEO of the WWE, formerly known as
Like Democratic Senate primary contender, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, Shays is focusing on getting his key supporters to the voting booth and defying a recent Quinnipiac University Poll that showed both trail their respective party-endorsed candidates. U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy is the Democratic Party's backed candidate.
Considering turnout for both the Republican and Democratic primaries is expected to be low, Shays and Bysiewicz see an opportunity for victory.
Shays estimates about 120,000 to 150,000 of the approximate 411,000 registered Republicans will vote. That means, he said, he needs a little more than 60,000 or 75,000 supporters.
"It all depends on who comes out to vote," he said.
The former congressman's message that McMahon is undeserving of the seat appears to have some resonance with voters from both major parties.
"I would never, ever, ever vote for Linda McMahon and I truly hope that Chris gets the Republican nomination because everything I've ever heard him say has been well-reasoned, well-thought-out and he has not succumbed to the fear-mongering that many Republican and quite a few Democrats have taken to these days," said Art Belanger of Madison, a registered Democrat.
Anthony Riccio happened to be reading an editorial criticizing McMahon when Shays sat next to him on the Shoreline East train to chat.
"She's got too much money. We live in the realm of money politics and it has nothing to do with your beliefs anymore," Riccio said. "Money short-circuits the political discourse. She doesn't have to answer questions. She doesn't have to deal with him. That's sad and I'm not even a Republican."
Will Brierley, a CPA from Guilford and a registered Republican, said he's supporting Shays.
"She's got the business experience and that's all good," Brierley said. "There's a difference between doing a good job in business and doing a good job in politics."