Now that Peter Schiff is sort of thinking about maybe jumping in, the Republican senate field is really starting to take shape.
And yes, this time around there actually is a real, honest-to-goodness field, rather than two little-known malcontents vying for a nomination nobody else wants. That’s the beauty of 2010. This time around, Republicans are lucky to have one of the most wounded senators in the country to run against. They’re also lucky that the Democratic party in Connecticut is far, far too wishy-washy to actually push Dodd aside in favor of someone who could perform the usual beat-down Republicans are subjected to in Senate races.
So here’s where the field stands right now:
If you follow Connecticut media, you might think Simmons is the only guy in the race—and for good reason. Right now he’s the go-to guy whenever someone needs a quote about how awful Dodd is—which seems to happen a lot.
Simmons, after a few hiccups at the start of his race, seems to be cruising along. He has a slick, weird-looking website, Google ads, video, a press operation and a nationally-known campaign manager in Jim Barnett.
However, Simmons sometimes seems like old news. Didn’t voters decide against sending him to Washington in 2006? Why would they want to send him back now? Simmons will go after Dodd’s lengthy record, to be sure, but we can also expect Dodd to hammer Simmons on his support for the Iraq War and pretty much everything else having to do with his being a Republican congressman during the Bush years.
Strengths: Name recognition, high-profile campaign, quality organization, moderate on most issues, saved a sub base once
Weaknesses: The years from 2001-2007, not as strong outside the 2nd district
Geographic base: Eastern Connecticut
Prediction: The nomination is his to lose, and he’ll almost certainly get the nod of the convention next year barring something unforeseen. The general election is a lot murkier, though several recent polls have shown Simmons ahead. Voters may not like Dodd right now, but do they really want to replace him with Simmons? Simmons needs to build a strong case for himself, like he did in 2000, in order to fully capitalize on discontent with Dodd.
What happened to this guy? Where is he? What is he doing? There has been very little coverage of Sam Caligiuri’s campaign in the media, which seems to focus mainly on Rob Simmons as Dodd’s likely opponent. However, despite what you may not be hearing, the campaign does exist and is moving along. He’s been flying under the radar, going around to town committees and local Republican groups, as well as raising some money. His Facebook page shows his activity over the past month or so.
Sam Caligiuri has a lot going for him. He’s young, he was in Hartford or Waterbury during the Bush years, he’s from the Republican heartland in the western part of the state, and he has nowhere to go but up. He’s a fresh face for a party that desperately needs a few of them.
He’s also a strong second choice should Simmons suddenly become less viable. I actually think he’d be a better candidate to run against Dodd than Simmons for several reasons, but unless something changes in Republican politics between now and the convention, I don’t see him getting the nomination.
Strengths: Charismatic and likable, hardworking, positive record, moderate (update on some issues he is more moderate, like minimum wage and equal pay, but is much more conservative on most others)
Weaknesses: Not well known outside Waterbury, no national experience
Geographic Base: Waterbury, the 5th congressional district
Prediction: Draws enough support and media coverage to raise his statewide profile, then graciously steps aside for Simmons at the convention. Stays in the state senate, runs for governor in 2014.
If you pay attention to the national media, you’d probably think that Tom Foley was running for Senate. And you’d be right, of course, since he is! The Connecticut media, however, has ignored Foley, at least for now. They may be on to something.
Foley was the ambassador to Ireland, and before that worked for the Bush administration in Iraq on a plan to privatize government-held businesses there. Yes, that Bush administration, and that Iraq. Maybe that’s why he’s not getting much coverage in Connecticut. Memories of Bush are already fading, but those ties will still hurt Foley somewhat in 2010.
However, his wealth and his experience in the business world could end up making him more than a footnote in this campaign, if he can break through. Republicans in Washington seem to like him, but that won’t help him here. He could find support from Fairfield County Republicans if the race opens up. He might be the least likely of the four to do well against Dodd, however.
Strengths: Wealth, business experience, national experience, international experience
Weaknesses: Bush administration ties, almost completely unknown in Connecticut
Geographic base: Greenwich, Washington D.C.
Prediction: Spends a lot of money, drops out before the convention
Okay, so he isn’t quite in yet, though he’s sounding more and more like a candidate all the time. If he does get in, he could have a surprising impact on the race.
Schiff is an economist who has never held office, but he has the dubious distinction of having called the current economic crisis years in advance. Clips of him on TV back in 2006 and 2007 predicting exactly how the U.S. economy was going to falter and crash make him look like a wizard. He’s also telegenic (not a bad thing for a statewide race), interesting to watch, and obviously very smart. He already has a national presence, but unlike Simmons or Foley, he’s not associated with the Bush years at all. In fact, his positions ran counter to a lot of the conventional wisdom about the economy back then.
He has weaknesses, though, and they are not insignificant. He doesn’t have great name recognition in Connecticut, though he may have a stronger following after his appearance on The Daily Show. He also has a less-than-comforting message about the state of the economy, which could go over like a lead balloon with voters looking for reassurance. And, while he can speak confidently on the economy, what about other issues? Schiff is a follower of Ron Paul, and served as an economic advisor to Paul’s presidential campaign in 2008. Paul’s brand of libertarianism is not popular in Connecticut, and that may hurt Schiff if he’s too strongly associated with it.
Schiff also has developed a habit of making less than politically astute comments, it seems. He’s recently said he’s never voted, and recently he said that this about the party whose nomination he may seek:
Living in Connecticut, even if I go to the polls and vote for a Republican, a Republican’s not going to win. Even if he could win, in the grand scheme of things he’s not going to make a difference.”
And maybe that’s true, but it’s not going to go over well with the kinds of Republicans who go out and vote in primaries.
I could see Schiff developing a small, committed and vocal group of supporters in Connecticut and nationwide, but I don’t see him getting the nomination. If he did get the nod, it would be very interesting to watch him take on Dodd over economic issues, but Dodd would have the edge everywhere else.
Strengths: Economic knowledge and foresight, comfortable on television, nationally known commentator
Weaknesses: Ron Paul ties, little experience outside economics, no political filter between brain and mouth
Geographic base: The internet
Prediction: If he gets in the race, he’s the only candidate I could see taking the nomination fight to a primary. He has little chance of winning the nomination at present, though a general election race against Dodd would make for compelling political theater.
At this point next year, the convention will have happened and we should know who the nominee is. I don’t think a competitive primary is all that likely—if Schiff primaries he won’t get far against Simmons. If nothing goes wrong, we should end up with the Simmons-Dodd matchup everyone seems to be looking for.
Which of them is best suited to take on Dodd? I actually suspect Caligiuri is, because there is so little in his record for Dodd to attack.
Dodd desperately wants the conversation to be about the other guy, and not him. If Simmons is the nominee, then the talk can turn to familiar lines of attack used against Simmons by Democrats in 2002, 2004 and (successfully) in 2006. These attacks are a little out of date (Iraq, for one), but they will be used and they might work well among certain groups of independents. Caligiuri makes that much harder—his nomination would ensure that the race is almost entirely about Dodd instead.
That doesn’t mean that Simmons is a bad candidate by any stretch of the imagination. He is well-known, can raise a lot of money, and continues to lead Dodd in the polls. Simmons will be a formidable challenger for Dodd, sure to draw support and funds not just from Connecticut, but from all over the country.