(Updated) In 2006 the U.S. Senate race between Ned Lamont and U.S. Senate Joseph Lieberman overshadowed the gubernatorial contest between New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democratic primary between DeStefano and then Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy.
With Attorney General Richard Blumenthal battling former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, and possibly Peter Schiff, for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat, it could happen again.
But there are some who don’t believe it will.
Roy Occhiogrosso, a consultant for the Malloy campaign, completely disagrees that 2010 will be like 2006. He said maybe if there was a Republican primary between McMahon and former Congressman Rob Simmons, that could be said, however, this year there may not be a primary in the U.S. Senate race unless Schiff is able to petition his way onto the ballot.
Occhiogrosso admits that people haven’t been paying attention, yet, to the governor’s race and probably won’t until it gets much closer, but he said this year is different because none of the candidates are incumbents.
“We’re going to have a new governor and that alone will mean the race gets a lot more coverage than it did in 2006,” Occhiogrosso said.
For his candidate 2010 is different because there’s no longer the day-to-day responsibilities that come with being a sitting mayor, he has more labor support than he did in 2006, and will have more money under the new public finance system.
“Just about everything is different this time,” Occhiogrosso said.
However, not many voters are paying attention.
Thursday’s Quinnipiac University poll showed 10 percent of voters are undecided in a U.S. Senate match-up between McMahon and Blumenthal. A whopping 42 percent of Republican primary voters are undecided on a gubernatorial candidate and 30 percent of Democratic primary voters are undecided about a gubernatorial candidate.
“There are still a very large number of Republicans that are undecided, in fact that is the largest group on the Republican side,” Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz said Thursday.
The best known of the Republican gubernatorial candidates is Tom Foley, the former ambassador to Ireland, who received the party’s endorsement last weekend at the convention.
On the Democratic side Lamont bested Dan Malloy 41 – 24 percent in the poll.
“Lamont is much better known than Malloy, I think it’s his name recognition advantage that helps give him the lead in the primary,” Schwartz said. “About two-thirds of Democrats said they haven’t heard enough about Malloy.”
Malloy also saw no post-convention bounce in his numbers after winning the Democratic party’s endorsement this past weekend, Schwartz said.
“It says he hasn’t gotten better known. It was a problem he had four years ago getting better known outside Fairfield County,” Schwartz said of Malloy. “Now he’s going to have the matching funds so he can spend some money on advertising that will help him get better known.”
Lamont has been on television, but Malloy has not. Malloy is the first gubernatorial candidate to qualify for $1.25 million to $2.5 million in funding under the public campaign finance system. He is expected to receive $2.5 million for the primary. The amount of money he received depends on how much money Lamont, who is not participating, decides to spend on the race.
Malloy said Wednesday that he expects to receive the money from the state by next Wednesday.
Lamont raised about $333,000 from contributors from January through the end of March, but his campaign Thursday refused to say how much the campaign has spent to date. And money may be the great equalizer for the gubernatorial candidates able to break through to voters.
Schwartz said today’s poll results show there’s certainly enough time before the August primary for Lamont or Malloy to make their case to voters.
“You certainly can’t count Malloy out,” Schwartz said. “He’s certainly within striking distance.”
Lamont’s communications director Justine Sessions showed up at the Capitol Thursday to make sure Schwartz and the media remembered the gubernatorial contest.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, is trailing Foley in the polls by 26 points.
“The poll numbers show that despite the amount of money spent by Ambassador Foley, he is not making his case to the voters,” Chris Cooper, Fedele’s campaign spokesman said. “Ambassador Foley spent $3 million and barely achieved a majority of delegates (50.1 percent) at the Convention. Right now, his higher poll numbers are a product of the name recognition he bought on TV. That kind of support is notoriously soft and with the huge number of undecided voters, we still believe this election will be decided by the issues and ideas of the candidates.”
Foley who garnered the endorsement of the party this weekend at the convention has already spent about $2 million on the campaign, which includes television advertisements. Foley had been running for U.S. Senate until Gov. M. Jodi Rell decided in November 2009 not to seek re-election.
R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, is still polling around 5 percent in the Republican primary, but his campaign is not worried about the spread.
“The fact that 42 percent of Republican voters are still undecided and up to 88 percent still don’t know enough about the candidates to form an opinion, particularly coming out of the convention and just over 70 days from the primary, are not only astounding, but moreover very encouraging figures for Oz,” said Griebel campaign manager Ashley Maagero.
“Considering that Ambassador Foley won the party’s endorsements, has spent over $2 million in the aggregate to reach voters in his senate and gubernatorial bids over the past year, and that Mike Fedele, the sitting lieutenant governor of four years, collectively account for less than 50 percent of GOP primary voters, sends a very clear signal: the Republican primary race is wide open and up for grabs.”