Drove up to the Hartford region and the Manchester Senior Center today to observe a meet the candidates event.
I was there to catch up with one of the third party candidates running for U.S. Senate, John Mertens, for a profile.
And he was there, along with a good dozen others seeking local or statewide offices, all mashed together in a large half-circle before the mostly elderly crowd.
Each had a strict two minutes to stand at a podium, introduce themselves and make their pitch. Later they all had to briefly answer one general question about improving the economy, and were told that if there was time they could take other questions from attendees at the end.
It was political speed dating: “I think you should vote for me, and here’s why.” Next candidate!
While I credit the center for doing its part to help educate voters, the poor seniors’ heads had to have been spinning after being confronted so quickly by so many candidates.
Some of the candidates who showed up didn’t even stay the whole time.
With Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Dick Blumenthal a no-show and Mertens announcing he had to leave early to head to work, Republican Linda McMahon used up her initial two minutes, left the circle to talk to a few voters in a nearby hallway, then got back on the trail.
The gubernatorial candidates – Democrat Dannel Malloy and Republican Tom Foley – both sent their lieutenant governor running-mates, Democrat Nancy Wyman, who arrived a little late, and Republican Mark Boughton.
Kevin Lembo, the Democratic candidate for comptroller, told me during a break that it is hard because, with so few days left to campaign, candidates are trying to squeeze in as many events as possible, which sometimes means leaving early or having to just say “no.”
There were a few moments that made the trip worthwhile.
It was humorous when Tom Marsh, the independent gubernatorial candidate seated in the middle of the half circle, told the audience that was the perfect spot for him because the Republican candidates were on his right and the Democrats seated on his left. That joke didn’t go over well with the other politicians in the group, which is why it was funny.
It was also fun to watch some of the major party candidates complain about how there are too many “career politicians” calling the shots, then walk back to their seats, which were right next to some career politicians from the same party.
I enjoyed watching McMahon – and would have enjoyed watching Blumenthal had he shown – try not to react when Mertens lambasted the Democratic and Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates for their negative advertising. He said if aliens were to arrive on Earth in the midst of campaign season, “They would think we picked the four worst people we could find for our leaders. All they do is tear each other down.” I found myself wishing Mertens had been allowed to participate in the three televised debates between McMahon and Blumenthal.
I’ve never covered Boughton, who is the mayor of Danbury, but I’ve seen him at these meet-and-greets and he appears to be a smart, energetic, amiable guy who has a good rapport with his audience. I understand the strategy of running Foley – who has not held public office – against Malloy, former long-time mayor of Stamford. And I’ve written here before that I think Boughton has political baggage regarding immigration. But were Boughton the GOP gubernatorial candidate, I think he might have made the debates with Malloy more interesting and informative. Every time Malloy touted his experience running a large city, Boughton could have shot back: “Gee, Dan. I ran a big city, too.”