Hours after former U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons announced that he will primary newly-minted GOP U.S. Senate nominee Linda McMahon, several of his supporters expressed concern about the prospect of an ongoing battle between the two.
“I’m concerned for many reasons,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said a few minutes after delivering a rousing speech to delegates at the start of this second day of the GOP 2010 Convention in Hartford.
McMahon won the nomination, with 737 delegate votes to Simmons’ 632 – a margin GOP Chief Chris Healy said was the closest he could recall in around 40 years.
Cafero was one of the first Republican leaders to publicly endorse Simmons, who lives in Stonington.
Cafero said he is focused on winning more seats in the state House of Representatives this November, and is worried about what a potentially bloody primary means for the party going forward.
Simmons and McMahon were both highly critical of one another in recent months. He has particularly questioned her character and various scandals involving her family business, the Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment. She has branded Simmons a political insider.
“To go forward, it prolongs that split,” Cafero said. He said he wants to talk to Simmons.
Freshman state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, also endorsed Simmons early on but said she is excited about McMahon’s nomination and it is time for the party to unite behind her.
“He’s a terrific statesman. He has served us so well and I have huge respect for that,” Wood said. “But the country’s telling us it’s time for something new … Linda brings business sense and I think business sense is what we need in the Senate.”
Other Simmons backers, while not urging him to step aside, did not appear enthusiastic about the prospect of his continuing his fight for the nomination.
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, the Deputy Republican House Leader, said while she understands Simmons’ argument that McMahon sunk $16 million of her own fortune into the campaign and he still came within striking distance of the nomination, Simmons had also been saying he would not force a primary.
“He has expressed other ideas about the primary process before,” Klarides said. “I don’t think there was ever a question it would be close … Primaries can be good and bad … He’s got to make that decision whether a primary will unify or split apart” the GOP.
Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele of Stamford, who today is seeking the gubernatorial nomination, said “it’s really a call Rob has to make.”
State Rep. Lile Gibbons, R-Greenwich, who also backed Simmons during last night’s U.S. Senate nominating convention, suggested Simmons conduct polls of Republican voters before continuing forward to get a sense of whether he has the support of rank-and-file party members or if the delegate vote Saturday night reflected the will of the party as a whole.
But Gibbons added: “I don’t think primaries are divisive at all. They just cost money. In fact they energize voters.”
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, who nominated Simmons’ Saturday night, argued in favor of a primary.
“This whole convention is a lot of fun but doesn’t give the average Republican voter the ability to make a decision … It’s certainly not a form of direct democracy,” Williams said. “For him to have come within 100 votes in a year where the American public is against insiders speaks a lot about who he is and there are a lot in our party very cautious about who our nominee is.”