(Updated 6:20 p.m.) Less than two weeks after leaving elected office, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz announced her intention to run for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s seat Tuesday morning.
Bysiewicz, 49, served as the chief elections official in Connecticut for 12 years before deciding to seek higher office in 2010.
This past election cycle, Bysiewicz had been the frontrunner in the gubernatorial contest before deciding to switch races and run for attorney general. It turned out to be a costly decision.
When questions were raised about her legal experience, she ended up suing herself and the party to prove she was qualified, however, the Supreme Court ruled last May that she wasn’t qualified to run.
The political missteps for Bysiewicz continued throughout 2010 when questions about a state-owned database she managed was allegedly being used for political purposes. Then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal concluded that parts of the database used were “inappropriate”, but the Chief State’s Attorney opted to bring charges against Bysiewicz.
Bysiewicz went on to use her leftover campaign funds to throw a series of “Thank You” parties around the state. The State Elections Enforcement Commission called the parties “unprecedented,” but decided it couldn’t fine her for throwing them.
And just when it looked like the 2010 election year, the first year in more than a decade that Bysiewicz’s name wasn’t on the ballot, could get any worse for her, it did. The vote tally in the gubernatorial contest was delayed when Bridgeport’s Registrar of Voters ran out of ballots, which prompted a judicial order to keep the polls open in that city for two hours longer. The counting of the ballots in one of the tightest gubernatorial contests in decades in that city was delayed for days as tired poll workers were awakened by police to continue counting ballots by hand. Bysiewicz, whose office as Secretary of the State by statute is not responsible for purchasing ballots for municipalities, received some criticism for the ballot shortfall in Bridgeport anyway.
But none of those missteps or miscalculations seem to phase Bysiewicz.
“I am running for the U.S. Senate for the same reason I first entered public service: because I want this state to be a better place for my children and yours,” Bysiewicz said in an emailed statement. “As I travel across this state listening to the people of Connecticut, I hear over and over that too many of our children have to leave our state because there aren’t enough opportunities here for them.”
But it didn’t take long for her critics, such as Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, to criticize her decision to run for the Senate.
“In 2010. Susan Bysiewicz showed Connecticut voters it’s all about Susan,” said Healy. “You have to give Ms. Bysiewicz credit, she can take a punch and doesn’t dwell on disappointments. Voters will however, will see this for what it is — another career politico in search of greater glory.”
Bysiewicz sees things differently.
“We need a Senator who is 100 percent focused on helping our state, and Senator Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut,“ Bysiewicz said in a prepared statement. “I will only work for the people of Connecticut so we can create jobs that keep our children and grandchildren here in Connecticut for generations to come.”
Bysiewicz, a Democrat, will likely face a challenge from U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy or U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney. Last week Murphy said he was considering a run for the seat, but hadn’t made a decision just yet.
Bysiewicz’s announcement Tuesday prompted Murphy to release a more definitive statement: “My interest in running for Senate in 2012 is well known in the state, and I expect to announce my decision very soon. All I can say now is that this is going to be a pretty busy few weeks.”
And despite the speculation about whether he’s really serious, Courtney doesn’t want to be counted out just yet.
“Over the past few months, people from across Connecticut whose advice I respect have encouraged me to consider a senate run,” Courtney said late Tuesday afternoon. “I am seriously considering that challenge.”
Courtney who represents a number of small towns across approximately half of the state holds a slight advantage over Murphy, who will have to spend several months getting to know and court the delegates in Courtney’s district. Bysiewicz holds an advantage over both the two Congressmen at the moment because she is known and has run statewide.
Ted Kennedy Jr., a Connecticut resident and the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, also has been mentioned as a potential contender for the seat.
Lieberman, who won his seat in 2006 as an independent rather than as a Democrat, has not announced whether he will seek re-election.
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Bysiewicz said she’s been considering a run for the past several months. She said she wants to focus on keeping young people in the state and wants to make Connecticut a place where people want to raise their families.
As for the other potential candidates, Bysiewicz said she’s the only candidate mentioned that has won a statewide primary and has done very well “whenever I’ve been allowed to be on the ballot.”
“I don’t think many people have been to as many towns as I have,” Bysiewicz said.
Based on an internal poll of 400 registered voters, Bysiewicz said she leads in a three-way Democratic primary against Murphy and Kennedy Jr. The poll conducted by Bysiewicz’s campaign Dec. 13-16 shows her with 33 percent of the vote as opposed to Murphy and Kennedy who receive 26 percent of the vote. In a head-to-head match-up against Murphy, Bysiewicz’s poll shows her leading him 46 percent to 37 percent.
In a general election match-up against former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon and Lieberman, Bysiewicz leads with 34 percent of the vote to Lieberman’s 30 percent and McMahon’s 28 percent. In a head-to-head match-up against McMahon, Bysiewicz’s poll shows her beating McMahon by 18 percent points, 54 percent to 36 percent. Bysiewicz also sought to find out how she would do against Republican Tom Foley. According to the poll in a three-way race Bysiewicz leads Foley 33 to 27 percent.
And despite the blunders on Election Day, the poll shows that Bysiewicz has a 58 percent approval rating. Only 24 percent of voters disapproved.
Bysiewicz said she plans to split her time between working for the law firm of Updike, Kelly, and Spellacy and the campaign trail.