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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Connecticut Election Results: A Critique

Foley: enthusiasm deficit
You'll have to excuse me.  It's taken a few days of decompression before I could draft a few thoughts on the disastrous election outcome for Connecticut Republicans.

My criticisms here will be direct, and don't plan to hold back.  So if you're a Connecticut establishment Republican looking to blame Susan Bysiewciz, or make up other far-fetched excuses, you might want to go over to Chris Healy's blog instead.  There you can read his ridiculous claims of how Republicans were swindled and hosed by voting improprieties and extended voting hours.  Sorry, but the buck stops here.  We own this defeat.

And its particularly painful, because on a night when national Republicans scored incredible gains across the nation, including taking 60 seats in the House of Representatives, several Senate seats, and Governorships, and even capturing the most State Legislative Chambers since 1928, we were left to sit and sulk, and pray for a miracle. But at the end of the night (or even the week) it never came.  We didn't even get a consolation prize.

Here are my thoughts by race....

The Gubernatorial Race

Rell: Let Fedele flap in the breeze deciding
whether to run for re-election
This race may have been doomed before it started.  Current Republican Governor Jodi Rell took her sweet time deciding whether or not she was going to run for re-election.  Republicans like Michael Fedele, Tom Foley and several others did the right thing by waiting to see what Governor Rell had planned.  After all, none of these candidates wished to primary a sitting, and very popular Governor like Rell. 

So it wasn't until November 9, 2009 - when it was ridiculously late - that Republicans learned the Rell wasn't going to run for re-election. Republicans had to scramble in a half-hearted effort to try and get their campaigns going in any direction.  Had he not been screwed over by the Governor, Lt. Governor Michael Fedele probably could have been better prepared, and inserted in the pre-election process to give him a bit more name recognition and a public presence which would have helped him score a foothold for contention.   Instead, Republican candidates, from Jeff Wright to Oz Griebel visited near-empty RTC meetings looking for support just prior to the Republican Convention.

Once the primary season started, we saw what turned out to to be a three way battle for the nomination that featured both Mike Fedele and Tom Foley beating the living hell out of each other on television, and Oz Griebel sliding off into oblivion.  Tom Foley painted Lt. Governor Fedele was as part of a long standing problem who has been nothing short of disengaged and in the shadow of  Jodi Rell for years (hardly a positive commentary on the Rell administraton as a whole).  And Mike Fedele painted Tom Foley as a corrupt, job killer, raising the spectre of Bibb and other issues that would later become the weapons of choice to be used by the Democrats to to beat Tom Foley down into the ground.

I don't know what happened between Tom Foley and Govenor Rell, but it was clear to anyone watching that she wasn't interested in helping Tom Foley campaign, never mind win.  Rell's radio commercials (which sounded similar to the ones she appeared in for Linda McMahon) had to be about as unenthusiastic as I've ever heard.  One pictured her being dragged to a dungeon to read the script, she sounded so uninterested.  And the commercials weren't even aired until about two weeks before election day.

Meanwhile, while Tom struggled to overcome the Bibb accusations, and a series of other attacks, we had a chance to see the Malloy camp in action.  Better organized, the Malloy camp mobilized volunteers - from college students to hundreds of Union members to work and campaign on his behalf.  Malloy, to his credit, learned a valuable lesson from his first attempt to run, and it was apparent to everyone that he knew how to mobilize forces to deliver the votes (and even the voters). 

Very similar to my earlier complaints about Peter Schiff, Foley also didn't spend a great deal of time away from home base.  He decided early on to disregard the second district - and campaign in his own neck of the woods.  Election results do show that against previous Republican statistics, he could have done remarkably better, had he showed more visibility.

From a personality standpoint (and I don't really mean to belabor this point), Foley came across very reserved, quiet and sort of weak, and many folks I spoke with viewed this as Fairfield County arrogance.  Now in contrast, Malloy came across brash, cocky, arrogant, and rude.  But given the two styles, and the anger out on the street about jobs, people were willing to give the guy who spouted ideas and suggestions the nod on November 2nd.  It's hard to go into such critical debates as reserved and lacking charisma.  And the first debate was awful for Foley, as it appeared that he let Malloy beat him to death at the podium, and he just took it, looking like a deer in headlights.  We believe that after the first debate, many people had made their mind up.  And in the remaining debates, while Foley did much better, he still never delivered a knock out punch that he needed to climb above Malloy and surge ahead.  Although Foley did close the gap in the last few weeks of the campaign, his slow start and melancholy approach did him in.

It doesn't matter how qualified you are (and I believe Foley was far better qualified to deal with Connecticut's economic problems than Malloy is), if you can't articulate your ideas and positions in a coherent way that appeals to the audience, than you're done for.

Connecticut will likely regret putting Dan Malloy in the Governor's Mansion.  High taxes, business unfriendly, pro-union, pro-spending policies are likely to do even more damage to Connecticut's economy.  And what's worse is the the Connecticut Legislature is solidly Democrat.  It burns me that Republicans would let this happen.  Connecticut, with a Liberal Governor, and Dems in control of both chambers of the Legislature will mirror the exact chemistry that we've seen in Washington for the past two years that has been so disastrous.  Tom Foley didn't even make the case that Democrats have controlled the State Legislature since 1972 - do you think that might have helped?

The United States Senate Race

McMahon: didn't get the
 soccer-mom vote
I think I beat the drum of disappointment regarding the outcome of the Connecticut U.S. Senate primary campaign, Republican convention, and its lingering results.  I was not a fan of Linda McMahon when she started sending me mailings unfairly portraying Rob Simmons as a big spending, cap and trade, villain.  I found the mailings beyond reproach, and I was offended to see a newcomer treat a man who had spent so much of his life serving his country as a solider, and as a government official, and then as an  elected official with such disrespect.  For a guy who had done so much for the country and state to have been treated so maliciously by Linda McMahon - a wrestling executive with tons of baggage - gave her a tainted image, not just in the second district, but throughout the State. And at the end of the day, that certainly hurt her.

Many of us were antagonized after watching a well-orchestrated coup d'etat during the Connecticut Republican Convention.  Linda McMahon's campaign staff in collaboration with Chairman Chris Healy (who's wife was working for Linda and making a six figure killing) hijacked the nomination from Rob Simmons through bribery, threats, and intimidation of delegates.  It was downright disgusting.

$21 million dollars later, and a whole lot of promises and commitments to people, and Linda managed to pull off a win during the primary.  So she became our nominee and that was that.

There was a short period of time, when Richard Blumenthal was sucking wind in the polls after he made untrue comments that he served in Vietnam.  He worked very hard to overcome the deficit but it really wasn't all that hard because despite his gaff, Linda McMahon was always going to have far more negatives than positives.  Between her ties to the Pro Wrestling business including all the shady practices of that industry, and all of her employees' deaths and her nonstop barrage of negative mailings and ads, she was destined to go down in flames.

I strongly believe that Rob Simmons would have made a better run of it as he was the only candidate on the Republican side who would have embarked on an issued-based campaign. He would have had the chance to beat Blumenthal. Connecticut isn't a place for a campaign of glitz and showmanship, which appeared as an odd backdrop for Linda's campaign.  Simmons was the ultimate serious face, who could have challenged Blumenthal on the merits of policy and service without appearing to be going for the jugular vein at every turn.  All my sources on the Democrat side told me of the relief the Blumenthal camp felt when Rob was out, and Linda was in.

Another point about Linda's failed campaign is that she seemed to be rejected outright by women.  I don't know whether they sympathized with Richard Blumenthal, or they just dislked Linda so much that they went against her 5-1.  I would have thought that women would have flocked to Linda for her achievements as a successful CEO and business-mom.  But clearly, the rejected her by a wide margin. I would have to say its not women against strong women, else Jodi Rell would not have done so well in previous years by taking a good portion of the woman's vote.  I tend to think that it may be Linda McMahon's line of business that advocated violence against women, and sexism.  That may have pushed the female vote away from McMahon.  Wrestling was never a big hit with the ladies.

The result of Richard Blumenthal winning this seat guarantees him not only six years of rubber stamping the Obama and Democrat agenda, but most probably a life-time appointment.  I would expect to see Blumenthal eventually move up to a leadership position over the next few years.  If not for his savvy ability to navigate systems, certainly by virtue of his never-ending commitment to self-promotion and advancement.

After all I've written here, I never really expected the GOP to win the U.S. Senate seat, but if there ever was an opportunity to do so, this was it.  $52 million dollars spent by Linda McMahon wasn't enough to take it which speaks more to her appeal as a candidate and the way she conducted her campaign, rather than the strength of Richard Blumenthal.  State GOP leaders will try to blame the demographics of the State, but that is hardly saleable given that Republicans have won the Governorship with solid majorities in previous years.

United States House of Representatives races

This area of failure is almost the most puzzling to me and I believe it speaks to the Connecticut GOPs biggest failure.

Peckinpaugh never had a chance

Peckinpaugh v Courtney (CT-2)

Janet Peckinpaugh was by far the worst of the worst when it came to Republican candidates in 2010.  As she's been beaming into our homes for years as a member of the liberal media establishment, and well known for her lawsuits against male news anchors, she already a major hurdle to overcome with the Republican base. 
Putting that aside, she was a pointless and useless primary candidate who clearly never had a grasp of the issues.  Two things come to mind when she was interviewed by the Press early on.  First when Dennis House asked her who she voted for in the last election cycle, she said, "I don't remember."   This was clearly a lie since people remember who they voted for and moreover, it was an opportunity to present clear strategic thinking by at minimum shouting "not Joe Courtney!" which would have endeared her to the Republican base. 

Second, Janet told us that she wanted to represent  us in Washington so she could report back what was happening in Washington to the people of Connecticut.  No dummy! We want someone to represent our interests in Washington, not report back what's happening! We want someone to make news, not report it!

Joe Courtney never had it so easy.  After watching clueless Janet slide in between Daria Novak (the GOPs endorsed candidate) and Doug Dubitsky to win the primary, he knew he was going to have a walk in the park.  Janet never had a grasp of the issues, and never articulated a position in any coherent manner.  Republican leaders kept telling me that Peckinpaugh came from a big Republican family out in the Midwest, but they never defended her as a Republican who would represent our interests or positions with any sincerity. 

Self-checked by not having a penny to spend, she ran no commercials, and I think I received one terrible mailing which showed her standing next to her kid - who had an angry look on his face.  This race didn't even force the Connecticut Democrats to spend money to counteract a Republican challenge thus freeing up capital to throw in support of Democrats in tighter races in other districts.

If we are lucky, we'll never see Janet Peckinpaugh as a candidate for so much as dogcatcher.

The biggest Congressional disappointments were in both the Connecticut 4th and Connecticut 5th districts.  Both of these seats were thought to be moving Republican in keeping with the nationwide trend of disappointment over Obama's failed economic policies, and the desire to punish Democrat office holders in border districts or generally Republican districts (which may on a fluke have gone Democrat during the Presidential election in 2008.)  In truth, it will take a bit more analysis for me to understand why at the last minute these two districts did not go Republican given their polling track - particularly in the 5th District where the expectation was that Caligiuri was nearly a shoe-in.

Debicella v Himes (CT-4)

Bridgeport may have killed Debicella
Connecticut's 4th District used to be almost a safe Republican seat given that it was held by moderate Chris Shays for years.  Shays lost during the Obama landslide a few years ago to Jim Himes, who is another steady liberal vote for Obama.  The outcome of this race was a surprise given the nationwide surge for Republicans and the fact that Himes was an advocate for many of Obama's failed policies. 

The thinking on this one was that the Bridgeport fiasco may have also helped Himes secure that win, and that for whatever reason Himes did better in Norwalk and in a few other towns where Republicans have historically done better.  There is also the idea that Linda McMahon's lack of appeal may have impacted the vote in District 4 as Democrats were able to get their voters to the polls to vote against Republicans en mass.

All in all, this is a district that Republicans probably should have won, if even by a thin margin.  It will be interesting to see who stayed home and who didn't when it comes to reviewing vote totals v demographics.

Caligiuri v Murphy (CT-5)

Caligiuri: Lost with 8 point lead
 This battle took place in Connecticut's 5th district which is considered the most Republican district in the state which borders New York and goes as far out as the Litchfield Hills. Of course it also includes Meriden and New Britain which have not been supportive of Republicans since the days of Nancy Johnson - although redistricting also played a role in making in easier for Democrats to win.  Yet this seat stayed Democrat which was a big surprise to most of us given that polls showed Caligiuri up by as many as eight points just days before the election. 

Caligiuri believes that one reason he lost is that his opponent had $2 million to spend on the campaign versus his mere $80,000.  In an environment where television and radio ads and mass mailings can make a difference, it was clear that this battle was quite lopsided.  I personally saw several well run television spots from the Murphy campaign which worked to drive home the message (true or false) that Murphy worked with both sides of the aisle and was an independent thinker in Congress.  Of course, Murphy has been a strong advocate for Obama's policies, but with so few ads making that case, Caligiuri suffered a huge handicap in this race. 

Notwithstanding, the negative ads run by Chris Murphy regarding Caligiuri as a guy that bankrupt Waterbury, Caligiuri wasn't able to run a campaign based on sound economic policies and issues that resonated with the public.  I believe this was less to do with the candidate as much as it was a campaign that never got out of neutral.  Why didn't state central come in and help Caligiuri raise funds?

Healy: Aught to be run out
of Connecticut on a freight-train

Caligiuri's loss is by far the biggest disappointment for the Connecticut Republican Party.  For this, State Central and Connecticut's Republican State Chairman Chris Healy need to answer for such a complete disaster, and for their complete incompetence given such a national Republican surge. 

It's hard to accept results where all five congressional districts, the U.S. Senate and the Governorship all go to the Democrats. (Which isn't to take anything away from the hard work that Ann Brinkley did in Connecticut's first district despite the blow out).  The Connecticut Republican Party has a lot of soul-searching to do over the next few months.  God willing, they will fire Chris Healy and start anew seeing competent leadership at the top, and start putting strategies in place where Republicans work together for the good of the State and the Party, and shun personal attempts to line their own pockets with cash and fortune.

1 comment:

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

I agree with pretty much your entire post.

Don't blame the members of state central for a chairman & staff that went rogue on us.

The backroom engineering that went into the convention was beyond belief; and having attended every convention since 1982 I'm in a position to know.

Becoming enamored with self-funding candidates was our downfall and I warned of it last March.