Sure Shays backed Lieberman. So did McMahon and rest of the GOP

It’s fun to see ex-Republican Chairman Chris Healy get real now that he no longer has to play the role of honest broker among party candidates.

Today on his blog – Make Blue Red – Healy has some interesting thoughts on ex-U.S. Rep. Chris Shays’ candidacy for U.S. Senate. (UPDATE: For some reason the links to Healy’s blog aren’t working, so I’ve pasted his column below).

Shays, after announcing his intentions to run in August, formally entered the race for the nomination against Linda McMahon, who unsuccessfully took on Democrat Richard Blumenthal for U.S. Senate in 2010.

Blumenthal’s camp went after McMahon over the fact she spent $50 million of the fortune she and her family built from founding/running Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment on the race.

Shays has adopted a similar approach. It really does seem like 2010 all over again, and Healy, who has joined several other ex-Republican chairs in endorsing McMahon, doesn’t like it.

But there’s some criticism Healy levels at Shays that’s a bit unfair considering the facts.

Shays and McMahon are competing for the nomination to replace retiring U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, the self-described “independent Democrat” from Stamford who lost the Democratic primary in 2006 and won the general election after creating his own party.

I covered that race.

Healy writes on his blog, “Chris Shays did many good things in Congress. But, at times, he went with the Democrats on numerous issues that are poison to Republican rank and file voters. Let us not forget his endorsement of Lieberman in 2006.”

That is true. Here’s an account from the New York Times about Shays’ decision

What Healy does not mention is after Lieberman won the nomination but lost the primary to the liberal Ned Lamont, Republicans quickly bailed on flawed GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger and adopted Lieberman as their informal candidate to dodge the Lamont bullet.

And it wasn’t just Connecticut Republicans. Rather than endorse Schlesinger, then-President George W. Bush, his top adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney all lamented Lieberman’s primary loss and used it to portray Democrats as weak on defense.

And let’s not ignore the fact McMahon donated $2,000 to Lieberman’s 2006 campaign. When I asked her about the expenditure during her 2010 race, McMahon said, “I think Joe Lieberman at that particular time seemed more aligned with my thoughts at that particular time. It’s really ideology at that particular time.”

So some Republicans think Shays crossed a line by backing Lieberman too early. Let’s not pretend the GOP as a whole – McMahon included – didn’t help carry the “independent Democrat” over the finish line.

UPDATE: Here’s Healy’s column…

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Happened to Chris Shays?

“If McDonald’s spent all it’s time telling you why you shouldn’t buy Burger King, and Burger King spent all its time telling you why you shouldn’t buy McDonald’s, you wouldn’t buy either, and that’s what happens in the political environment,” Shays said. “So much time is spent saying why you shouldn’t support the other person, you basically agree, and then you want to support nobody.” – 
                                                                                                                Christopher Shays, 2003


This week, former Republican Congressman Christopher Shays will formally announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Shays should be viewed seriously having served in Congress for his 21 years representing a wealthy district.  But since indicating he wanted to run for the open seat held by Democrat-Independent  Joseph I. Lieberman (who he endorsed in 2006), Shays has shown little of the “love” that he used to demonstrate to fellow Republicans.

Shays is a “hugger” but he has been more like the Boston Strangler since accusing fellow Republican Linda McMahon of being a concentration camp guard. Shays has said McMahon is unfit for the Senate, claiming in interviews that McMahon is responsible for the pre-mature deaths of 50 professional wrestlers and that her World Wrestling Enterprises engages in “soft porn.” This was the standard rhetoric used by Democrat Richard Blumenthal during his successful run against McMahon in 2010. Shays has merely dusted off the video and the Senate Democrat Campaign Committee’s talking points.

WWE headquarters, which employs over 500 law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, is located in Stamford, Shay’s old district. A WWE spokesman pointed out Tuesday that Shays had once toured the WWE facility and praised a voter registration program for young people. He must have missed the nude posters.

Now, Shays is Hulk Hogan, trash-talking the same nonsense about McMahon and WWE. It didn’t work for Rob Simmons in 2010 and is unlikely to resonate now. Shays is free to do that, but if he did win a primary, how could he expect any McMahon loyalists to work for him in the general Election? How do you think those WWE paying customers, many of whom are Middle Class working families, are told they are subjecting their children to “soft porn” will sell?

McMahon, who I am supporting and whom my wife worked for in 2008, has learned a great deal since her $50 million run two years ago. McMahon cleared out her over-fed and self-dealing campaign team, brought in competent staff, worked the Republican audiences, wrote checks and welcomed criticism and suggestions. Rank and file Republicans  like Linda McMahon after they meet her and like her more because of her work ethic. I have never heard a word of complaint from McMahon about any Republican or even the people who took her money and delivered little in 2010.

Shays’ conduct is an abject lesson in denial. He decided to blame everyone but himself for his defeat or for allowing his campaign manager Michael Sohn steal over $250,000 from his campaign coffers. And while vendors got stiffed,  Shays has complained that it is up to Sohn, currently in prison, to make good on those bills.


Shays withdrew from political life after losing to Goldman Sachs executive Jim Himes. He moved to Maryland, bought a home and began to work on the Wartime Contracting Commission investigating vendor fraud in Iraq. Shays did an admirable job on the panel. He was well-suited to this kind of investigation, but showed little to no interest in his home state until the U.S. Senate race beckoned.

But when he decided to re-emerge, Shays came back with an angry act which has confused and turned off many Connecticut Republicans, who simply like Linda McMahon and her story.

So what if Linda McMahon or any other serious candidates was in the race? What if the field was wide open and Republicans had gone on bended knew to Shays and made the nomination a formality? Shays has not knocked the cover off the ball when it comes to fundraising, a task that he has never enjoyed or understood as essential to winning an Election. Shays raised $444,000, which sounds like a lot, but even if Linda McMahon wasn’t in the race, is a poor showing when you compare it to the Democrats running. Congressman Chris Murphy, the leading Democrat raised almost twice that last quarter for a total of $3.7 million.

A U.S. Senate race costs at least $5 million no matter what the situation. The best quarter for fundraising is usually the first quarter because that is where the “low hanging fruit” lies – past supporters, friends and family or business associates. Shays does not like to make phone calls for money which means he believes people should freely give it without being asked. 

And Shays has not been as active on the ground as Linda McMahon. Despite her riches, McMahon gets out there to every event she can, no matter the size of the crowd or the cost of the ticket. 

Chris Shays did many good things in Congress. But, at times, he went with the Democrats on numerous issues that are poison to Republican rank and file voters. Let us not forget his endorsement of Lieberman in 2006. Starting out what is sure to be a final campaign resorting to the very rhetoric that he longed denounced (see 2003 quote above) cuts to his credibility. 

This is the year of the “outsider,” and McMahon is poised to strike the contrast needed with lifetime politician Murphy, Susan Bysiewicz or State Rep.William Tong. Shays has been a politician his entire life. Shay’s time has come and gone. It is sad that in the twilight of his career, he has grown fangs and is attacking the one person with a shot to win a Republican Senate seat. 

Brian Lockhart