Five Bizarre Republicans Vie for Position in Connecticut Senatorial Race

CHRIS POWELL: In challenging Dodd, money isn’t everything
The Register Citizen (Litchfield County, CT)
October 11, 2009

With polls showing Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd extremely vulnerable as he seeks election to a sixth term next year, the Republican nomination to challenge him is for once worth something. So there are five candidates, each with the ability to get noticed. Whether each should be taken seriously is something else.

The leader by far is eastern Connecticut’s former U.S. representative, Rob Simmons of Stonington, who in terms of experience may be as qualified for the Senate as anyone in the country -- Vietnam veteran with two Bronze Stars, CIA officer, Senate committee staff director, state representative for 10 years, U.S. representative for six years, and state government’s business advocate. He is well known throughout the state.

In Congress Simmons was ranked among the most independent members of the Republican caucus. To some conservative Republicans, this makes Simmons a RINO -- Republican in name only. But a hard-right Republican hasn’t been elected to Congress from Connecticut since 1968, when Fairfield County’s Gold Coast sent to the House that Vietnam war-supporting, Justice William O. Douglas-impeaching plutocrat, Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

Simmons is hard-working and his long record makes him a known quantity. It also offers points of attack, like his support for going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now that those wars have been taken over by a Democratic administration, Simmons may be off the hook.

Some Republicans view Simmons’ experience as a drawback, insofar as it connotes his age, 66, which puts in doubt his ability to hold the Senate seat for the party with a second term. Some of these Republicans find Waterbury state Sen. Sam Caligiuri more attractive. While Caligiuri’s experience is a fraction of Simmons’, he has excelled as president of Waterbury’s Board of Aldermen and acting mayor and, for the last three years, state senator. As acting mayor he lifted Waterbury out of a horrifying scandal and began to get the city’s budget under control. In the state Senate he has candidly noted the excesses of the state budget even when fellow Republicans were going along. Caligiuri’s weaknesses are his lack of statewide recognition and his fund-raising ability.

Another candidate is Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, former ambassador to Ireland by virtue of his raising a lot of money for President George W. Bush’s campaign. Foley already has raised a lot of money for his own campaign but he is unknown, and being a Bush money man isn’t likely to have much appeal to Connecticut voters.

Then there are two candidates for whom fund raising will be no problem, just nearly everything else.

Peter Schiff of Weston, an investment company manager and frequent commentator on financial market programs on television, is noted for having predicted the 2008 financial market crash. His libertarian economic philosophy is refreshing amid government bailouts and takeovers but probably would leave big money just as much in charge of the country as it is now. Schiff’s father, Irwin, the famous tax resister, is in federal prison, which would cause inconvenient discussion. Schiff has raised a million dollars from a national libertarian network but not only lacks experience with issues beyond the markets; he admits having hardly ever voted. He announced his candidacy on a national TV program, not in Connecticut, where he is little-known.

The fifth candidate, Linda McMahon of Greenwich, made a fortune from a business of grotesque comedy — World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. — and her candidacy is following suit. Her only experience in government is her recent appointment by Governor Rell to the state Board of Education. McMahon boasts of limiting contributions to her campaign to $100 per person but has put no limit on what she might spend from her personal funds and already has blanketed the state with mailings and television commercials. She complains about establishment politicians but has been a major donor to them — and more to Democrats than to Republicans. She too admits hardly ever voting.

Dodd may hope that Foley, Schiff, or McMahon can buy the Republican nomination in a primary with a mere plurality in a divisive five-way race. For having long extracted millions in campaign contributions from the financial industry, which he oversees as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, only to find himself widely distrusted back home, Dodd now may know that money isn’t everything.

Chris Powell is the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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