Christine Stuart file photo
Rob Simmons (Christine Stuart file photo)

(Updated 8:50 p.m.) He says he’s not campaigning, but former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who was running for U.S. Senate, will begin airing television ads this weekend to let Connecticut voters know that he is still on the Aug. 10 primary ballot. Simmons also has agreed to debate at least one of his Republican opponents in the race.

Stealth campaign?

Simmons campaign chairman Eric Janney said the $350,000 ad buy that will run through Aug. 10 is simply informational to let voters know he is still on the ballot.

“Over the last couple of months as he has been touring the state people invariably tell him they wish they could vote for him,” Janney said. “These are active Republicans who don’t know he’s still on the ballot.”

Simmons, a Vietnam veteran who also served in the CIA, doesn’t see the move as active campaigning because he’s not “poking” at any of his opponents, he doesn’t have any lawn signs, most of his campaign staff is gone, and he hasn’t done any fundraising since the convention, Janney said.

Simmons curtailed his campaign on May 25, a few days after losing the convention endorsement to Republican frontrunner Linda McMahon. At the time he equated campaigning against McMahon’s millions to Pickett’s Charge during the Civil War. Since then he’s been traveling the state stumping for other Republican candidates.

At one point he even saw his poll numbers jump up about 10 points, but the latest Quinnipiac University poll still shows him trailing McMahon and Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal. Of course, in a match up against Blumenthal, Simmons trails the attorney general, 55 percent to 35 percent, while McMahon trails Blumenthal, 54 percent to 37 percent.

Confident she would win the Republican Party’s nomination McMahon’s campaign shifted its focus to the November election. But Simmons’ advertising buy and increased visibility may put a wrinkle in McMahon’s recent campaign strategy, which had its sights set on defeating Blumenthal.

McMahon’s campaign said Wednesday that it’s ready for Simmons if he gets back into the race.

“Rob Simmons has said many times he’s a man of his word, and we take him at his word. Should he decide to officially un-curtail his campaign, we’re prepared for that, as we have been since September 2009,” Ed Patru, McMahon’s communications director, said.

“Until that happens, following Rob Simmons’ on-again, off-again campaign is a little like trying to keep up with an Abbott and Costello routine, ‘Who’s on first?’ ” Patru added. “We have an election in less than four months, and Republicans overwhelmingly want Linda to focus on Dick Blumenthal.”

As of Wednesday evening there was still no edited version of the television advertisement available. It was in the process of being edited. The campaign decided to announce the production of the ad through the public relations and advertising firm of Cashman + Katz because there was no campaign staff left to help get the message out, Janney said.

Click here to read the script.

He said they wanted to get the message out before the rumors, which would have started once it started buying television time, got out.

The campaign still occupies its Mystic headquarters, but when asked where Simmons will be the night of Aug. 10, Janney said “we don’t have any plans for an event or party.”

What happens if Simmons wins?

“Then we run against Blumenthal,” Janney said.

Peter Schiff, the Weston money manager, is also vying for the Republican nomination.

More Debate About Debates

In addition to the advertising buy it looks as if Simmons is making himself available to attend more than just campaign events for other Republican candidates. He has agreed to attend a U.S. Senate debate at Trinity College on July 27. 

The Federation of Connecticut Taxpayers is sponsoring the debate and Susan Kniep, president of the organization, said Simmons, Schiff, and independents Warren Mosler and John Mertens all have agreed to attend.

McMahon has declined the invitation.

The public deserves a chance to see the candidates unscripted and in action before they head to the polls and vote for one of them to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, Kniep said. Dodd has held the seat for 30 years.

Schiff has been attempting for weeks to get McMahon to agree to a debate. His efforts have been unsuccessful.

“We’ve debated Peter Schiff numerous times since September 2009,” Patru said. “Linda has appeared with him at many different forums and debates across this state, including one that was televised. After nearly 10 months, Republicans have a pretty clear picture of the differences between them.”

But Schiff, who barely made the primary ballot and has less money than McMahon to spend on the campaign, disagrees.

“I’ll tell you what, if it makes her more comfortable on Tuesday, I’ll agree to put the three podiums inside a ring,” Schiff said. “If that’s not good enough, I’ll even let her have the questions in advance and we’ll let her well paid Washington advisers script her answers. Then you can see firsthand her in depth knowledge of the issues. Connecticut voters deserve the honesty of a debate, not 30-second commercials or fliers in the mail.”

The Federation of Connecticut Taxpayers debate will be held Tuesday, July 27 at Trinity College. It will be moderated by Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, and questions will be submitted by various groups like the Federalist Society, Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and the Yankee Institute. Kniep said Connecticut Voices for Children has also been invited to submit questions, but has not responded yet to the offer.

Kniep said the invitation to McMahon stands if she chooses to attend.