With two new contenders, Republicans hoping to unseat Sen. Chris Dodd see new hope, and new challenges.
Five Republicans are competing for the chance to challenge Dodd next November, with two of the newcomers — former-World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, and economist and hedge-fund manager Peter Schiff — joining the campaign trail in the last month. Observers and insiders alike agree that competition between the Republican candidates will likely weaken their chances of success in Nov. 2010’s general election, when the eventual Republican primary winner will face Dodd.
“These are all very qualified individuals and they all think they can win — that fact alone speaks to how vulnerable Dodd is,” said Kenneth Dautrich a public policy professor at the University of Connecticut. “But with five people in the race, there is an even greater chance that the primary turns negative, hurting Republicans chances in the general election.”
And that is exactly what Democrats are looking for, particularly considering the precarious position Dodd has found himself in, said Doug Schwartz, the director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. Because of a series of scandals, including allegations of impropriety regarding his mortgage, Dodd is trailing former-Congressman and current Republican senatorial candidate Rob Simmons in a theoretical match up, according to the latest Qunnipiac poll.
“Democrats hope that the Republicans will beat each other up in the Republican primary resulting in a weakened Republican nominee,” Schwartz said.
Simmons’ campaign manager, Jim Barnett, called on candidates to respect Ronald Reagan’s famed ‘Eleventh Commandment’: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
“There will be a lot of time that is spent competing with each other as opposed to Senator Dodd, and that will certainly affect the resources available in the general election,” he said, adding that Simmons’ campaign is not altering its strategy, but will instead continue to target Dodd. “We anticipated a tough fight.”
Dautrich said the primary would most likely end up being about more than television ad dollars, with strong ideological voting blocks dominating the race.
“Schiff and [State Sen. Sam] Caligiuri have the libertarian and social conservative votes, respectively,” he said. “With the small number of registered Republicans in the state — whoever motivates their ideological base most stands the best chance of winning the primary.”
But, Dautrich said, Schiff and Caligiuri are the two most unconventional candidates in the general election for the same reason.
“They’re going to have trouble appealing to the general electorate,” he commented. “Schiff or Caligiuri are the type of divisive candidate Dodd is hoping for.”
Jay Howser, Dodd’s campaign manager, said in a phone interview Thursday that the Senator is focused on his legislation in Congress, rather than the campaign.
But, Barnett said, regardless of the eventual candidate, Dodd is facing a larger problem — that his recent scandals have eroded trust in his judgement.
“If we can avoid using metal folding chairs,” Barnett said, referencing McMahon’s former career, “I think [Republicans] will do fine.”