Rob Simmons brought his medals and ribbons from Vietnam, while Peter Schiff brought his entourage of grassroots supporters and his new RV.
It was the first time the two candidates for U.S. Senate shared a stage since Simmons curtailed his campaign in May after losing the Republican convention to Linda McMahon.
Simmons and Schiff were joined on stage by independent candidates John Mertens and Warren Mosler for the debate at Trinity College. Both McMahon, the frontrunner on the Republican side, and Richard Blumenthal, the frontrunner on the Democratic side, declined to attend.
In recent days, rumors that either Simmons or Schiff would endorse the other prior to the Aug. 10 primary seemed distant even though Simmons admitted to having “conversations” with the Schiff campaign. He refused to characterize the nature of those conversations.
“We’ve had conversations. I prefer not to get into the details,” Simmons said.
Schiff wouldn’t even acknowledge that the two campaigns have talked.
“I have no intention of supporting anybody other than myself,” Schiff said after Tuesday’s debate. “I’m in the race until they close the polls Aug. 10.”
“I’d rather have Rob drop out and support me and I’ve asked that he do that and he‘s refused,” Schiff said. “But you know there are certain positives to a three-way race.”
In a three-way race, Schiff said he can win with less than 40 percent. But he admits in order to do that he needs to increase his name recognition. “It’s unfortunate the only way to get name recognition is to buy it in the media,” Schiff said.
He said Republicans are generally supportive of his campaign after they get to know him, however, “ only a third of the Republicans know I’m running.”
“Whose fault is that? Is it my fault because I didn’t spend enough on television? Or maybe I didn’t get enough coverage in the media…I don’t know why they don’t take my campaign seriously,” Schiff added.
Asked about Simmons’ reemergence, Schiff said he doesn’t think Simmons ever left the race.
“He suspended his campaign. He never suspended his candidacy,” Schiff said. “I just think that was his strategy. We’ll see if it works.”
He said he and Simmons are in the same predicament when it comes to doing battle against McMahon’s millions. So far, McMahon has spent about $22 million of her own money on the campaign.
But Simmons doesn’t think McMahon’s millions will help Republicans beat Blumenthal in November.
“I think I have a qualification to beat him that she doesn’t have,” Simmons said while reaching into his jacket pocket. “It’s this ribbon and this ribbon and this ribbon.”
He said the one issue that took Blumenthal down 15-20 points in the polls was the issue of his service during the Vietnam era.
Blumenthal served in the Marine Corps Reserves during the Vietnam War, but misspoke about his service at times making it sound like he actually served overseas in Vietnam. He has apologized for the misstatements, but his opponents continue to use it against him.
“That issue is still out there. People are still concerned about it. It’s a character issue,” Simmons said Tuesday after the debate. “It’s an issue I have that she doesn’t.”
But some Republicans fear that since Simmons stopped his campaign in May, he doesn’t have the resources or a campaign staff to challenge Blumenthal should be win the primary.
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves,” Simmons said. “I think people have to be focusing on what’s going to happen on Aug. 10. And if people want to make the judgment that money is the only criteria for success in politics in America today, that’s their judgment to make,” Simmons said. “I don’t make that judgment. I always said the people are the most important criteria.”
Simmons’ on again, off again campaign has his opponents and supporters scratching their heads, but if any question about his candidacy remained it was put to rest Tuesday by his opening statement.
“I’m Rob Simmons. I am running for the United States Senate, because I love my country, and I don’t like where it’s going,” Simmons said.