GOP future hopes to win Conn. Senate seat grow dim
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With the election of Democrats Richard Blumenthal and now Chris Murphy, Connecticut Republicans may have missed their best opportunities in years to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
It took more than 20 years for a Connecticut incumbent to leave the U.S. Senate before Blumenthal won in 2010, taking the seat that opened with the retirement of Democrat Chris Dodd after 30 years. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent, will have served for 24 years when he retires in January.
Given Murphy’s age — he’s only 39 — and Blumenthal’s strong popularity in the state, Democrats say the duo might endure for as long as their predecessors.
‘‘This may go on for the next 30 years,’’ New London state Rep. Ernest Hewitt said. ‘‘No doubt in my mind.’’
Hewitt, a Democrat, said he believes the GOP’s candidate for the past two Senate elections — wealthy former wrestling executive Linda McMahon — is to blame for hurting the Republican Party’s future chances. McMahon spent nearly $100 million from her personal fortune on the two races, prompting state GOP chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., to suggest the day of the self-funding candidate may be over in Connecticut and how it’s time to ‘‘get back to basics’’ when picking the next Republican candidate.
‘‘There’s a bad taste in people’s minds right now. Linda McMahon helped put a bad taste in people’s mouths because she tried to buy an election. Period,’’ Hewitt said. ‘‘And you know what the most beautiful part is? They didn’t buy it.’’
A message left seeking comment with McMahon’s campaign was not immediately returned.
Republican Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton contends that the 2012 and 2010 opportunities for Republicans to win an open seat were ‘‘not really great opportunities’’ when examined closer.
‘‘Nobody was going to beat Dick Blumenthal. Rob Simmons was not going to beat Dick Blumenthal. I don’t see it because Dick Blumenthal has access to assets and dollars that Rob wouldn’t have been able to compete with, as much as I like Rob,’’ he said of the former Stonington congressman who lost the GOP’s endorsement to McMahon in 2010.
In 2012, with President Barack Obama leading the ticket in Democratic-leaning Connecticut, Boughton said he had reservations about any Republican being able to win Lieberman’s seat.
‘‘I don’t necessarily think these were layups. I don’t think the Republicans can delude themselves into thinking they were layups,’’ he said.
Besides those particular challenges, Boughton said there are not enough Republican donors in Connecticut to support a traditional candidate for the U.S. Senate and raise the $5 million to $10 million needed to run a competitive race.
‘‘It’s easy to say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t run any more self-funders.’ OK, show me the folks who are going to be able to raise that kind of money in Connecticut and be able to provide the assets and resources to be successful because I don’t see it,’’ he said. ‘‘Our donor base is shrinking and I don’t think we’re really in the position to say that unless we can find somebody that’s a really, really good fundraiser. And I don’t see one on the bench right now.’’
He said the GOP needs to start thinking about what Republicans believe in and what they stand for and how best to share that message with the public, both in Connecticut or nationally. Or else, he said, ‘‘we’re going to have a lot more long nights on election night.’’
Simmons, who maintains he would have been a strong challenger to Blumenthal, said he believes the state Republicans have lost two opportunities by not tapping experienced candidates like himself and former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, who lost both the endorsement at the GOP convention and the primary to McMahon this year.
He said he believes the GOP will now have a difficult time finding good candidates to run in U.S. Senate races. Blumenthal is up for re-election in four years.
‘‘It’s clear that the Republican Party, here in the state of Connecticut, is divided somewhat along ideological lines in how they pick a candidate to run for public office,’’ Simmons said. ‘‘And that division creates problems for the party and that division is not healthy. We have to be able to put together coalitions of people to be successful because ultimately you have to get more votes than the other person and that takes coalition building.’’
Murphy, however, said he doesn’t believe 2012 will be the last hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Connecticut for a while, especially if the GOP picks the right type of candidate.Continued...