State House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, was one of the first GOP heavyweights to endorse former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons’ bid for U.S. Senate.
Simmons, who lives in Stonington, lost the nomination in late May to political newcomer Linda McMahon of Greenwich, who is using the fortune her family built running Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment to self-fund her campaign. She has pledged to spend $50 million if she must to beat the popular Democratic nominee, long-time Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
On August 10 McMahon and Simmons, along with Weston economist Peter Schiff, face-off in the Republican primary.
Simmons initially decided while he earned enough delegate support at the convention to qualify for the primary ballot, that he could not compete with McMahon’s money and suspended his campaign. But that changed late last week when Simmons suddenly launched a television spot reminding voters he is still in the race.
But Cafero, rather than cheering Simmons on, finally decided late last week to publicly endorse McMahon after spurning her prior efforts to woo his support.
Cafero said he broke the news to Simmons Friday and the McMahon campaign made the announcement this afternoon.
Cafero is not convinced that, should Simmons win August 10, he will be able to mount an aggressive campaign against Blumenthal.
“That’s the finish line. Election Day. It’s not August 10 and we need a candidate who will be able to run August 11 through November to victory,” Cafero said. “(Simmons) suspended his campaign. He was not actively seeking funds, employing field staff, gearing up for an election. Even if he were to win the primary the question is ‘now what’?”
I suggested to Cafero that, were Simmons to pull off this comeback victory, the wind would be at his back and the donations would begin pouring in.
“It might happen,” Cafero said, adding Simmons during their conversation last week suggested the same occurred in Massachusetts in the case of Scott Brown’s shockingly successful campaign earlier this year for the U.S. Senate seat held for decades by the late liberal lion Ted Kennedy.
But, Cafero said, Brown won a special election when all eyes were on the Massachusetts race.
“I can’t argue in a general election the same would be the case,” Cafero said. “I presume not only individual donors but organizations including the national party has to pick and choose and fund more than one race at any given time.”
During our conversation I also noted that not once did Cafero make the case McMahon will make a better Senator than Simmons. His reasons for endorsing her, both during our interview and in the press release issued by McMahon’s staff, were all about her ability to win.
“I’ve had a meeting with Linda McMahon,” Cafero said. “I was very impressed with her. She’s a very real person. She has, unlike some others, gone through ups and downs of life and business. She’s a very determined person. Very well-grounded. She has some good old Southern common sense.”
But should Simmons win the primary, Cafero made it clear he will be behind him.
“Should the voters come out on August 10 and choose otherwise, hey, I’m backing the Republican.”
Touched base with state Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who, like Cafero, backed Simmons and has not publicly endorsed McMahon. Unlike Cafero, McKinney told me today he has no plans to change his position prior to the primary and still believes Simmons is the best candidate to beat Blumenthal.
“I did vote for Rob Simmons at the convention. I did believe that Rob Simmons was dropping out of the race. And I think having not talked to Rob since his re-emergence, I am a little confused, like a lot of people, as to what his end goal is. Is he trying to run in the primary or not?,” McKinney said. “But I still think out of respect for Rob this situation’s got to play out. We only have until August 10 left so I’m going to let it play out until August 10.”
I asked McKinney if he shares Cafero’s concerns about Simmons’ inability to wage a campaign against Blumenthal?
“If he were to miraculously win on August 10, and I do think it would be somewhat of a miracle, then he would have probably garnered some pretty good momentum and a great deal of national attention and that momentum and national attention can provide a lot of name recognition that otherwise you would have to buy with campaign funds,” McKinney said. “Having said that I am concerned that if you wake up on August 11 with close to no campaign funds can you physically raise the amount of money necessary in about a month to a month and a half? … My guess is you’ll see heavy Dick Blumenthal ads on August 11. So that period between August 10 and when he could get enough money to get up on the air could cost his campaign.”