(Updated) NEW LONDON—Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons was not ready Tuesday to endorse Linda McMahon when he announced he would effectively be ending his campaign and releasing his staff.
The decorated Vietnam veteran, who just last fall was enjoying a double-digit lead in polls over U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, seemed uncharacteristically somber about his decision to end his campaign in a hotel lobby. After failing to garner his party’s endorsement at the convention, Simmons acknowledged his campaign was over, but refused to withdraw his name from the ballot line.
He said his decision was all about arithmetic.
“Speaking for myself and my family, however, we understand the mathematical reality of competing against an opponent with unlimited financial resources who has already invested over 16 and a half million dollars in this campaign…,” said Simmons. “On this basis we have decided, reluctantly and prayerfully, to scale back the campaign.”
“The only qualification that really counts is your ability to be elected,” Simmons conceded.
He equated his campaign against McMahon and her millions with the futility of Pickett’s Charge, a Civil War assault by the Confederacy on the Union about which he’d read over the weekend. Simmons said Picket’s Charge was a “foolish waste of people and resources with a tremendously demoralizing outcome. It changed the shape of the Civil War for the Confederacy.”
Simmons added, “Not that I would want the Confederacy to win. I simply have to observe and reflect on the situation as I see it.”
Asked why he wants to leave his name on the primary ballot, Simmons said “I don’t see it as a protest, I see it as honoring those who did support me under difficult circumstances and giving them a choice.”
With nothing but time on his hands, he said he would spend his time helping to elect fellow Republicans to federal and state offices, but he wouldn’t say whether those efforts would include support for McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO who received the party’s endorsement for U.S. Senate on May 21.
Simmons, who received the support of 46 percent of the delegates at the convention, said his fundraising efforts were harmed when he lost the party’s endorsement to McMahon.
“Rob’s decision today was difficult, but speaks to all of what he has dedicated his life to – service,” Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said in an email. “Republicans will always appreciate what he has accomplished for our Party, state, and country and we will never forget his friendship and dedication to the cause of liberty.”
Healy’s words may ring hollow for Simmons, who seemed stunned his party seemed to choose money over his years of public service.
Healy, who managed Simmons’ last congressional campaign, did not attend the press conference. Their relationship grew strained this year when McMahon hired Healy’s wife, Susan Bibisi, as her traveling press aide.
Simmons seemed to have hoped the party would have chosen his experience over McMahon’s millions, especially in light of the recent blunder made by the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
Simmons often stated that character would be a central issue in the campaign. His campaign spent a lot of time trying to make the WWE’s sex and violence—and steroid usage by its wrestlers—an issue in the race.
“I’ve always tried to put the public good above private gain. It is this sense of service above self, nurtured in my early days as a young soldier in Vietnam, that has been a motivating force for over 40 years,” Simmons said. “That is what motivates me to make that decision now.”
The McMahon campaign seems to have bitten its tongue Tuesday when issuing its statement, which is much tamer than others prior to the convention.
“Rob Simmons obviously deserves all of the recognition he’s received for his patriotism and his military service to our country,“ McMahon campaign spokesman, Ed Patru, said. “Our focus moving forward, and the focus of Republicans across this state, is winning in November because it’s absolutely critical that we get Washington spending under control and start putting people back to work.”