Everyone gave the former Secretary of the State up for dead after a miserable year in which she was unceremoniously booted from the attorney general campaign and an election day debacle in Bridgeport. Yet here she is, racking up DTC endorsements and raising $500,000 during her first quarter campaigning for the Democratic nomination. Sure, she was out-raised by a 2-to-1 margin by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, but for an underdog candidate who had an awful 2010 and is competing with a relatively popular congressman for Democratic dollars, those are surprisingly good numbers.
Even more surprising are the attacks she’s begun lobbing at Murphy. She’s been doing her level best to paint him as a creature of Washington, panning the endorsement he received from the state’s entire congressional delegation as proof of “support from the inner hallways of Washington.” Which, clearly, is bad. “The Washington establishment is clearly with Chris Murphy,” she informed the East Haven Democratic Town Committee on Monday. “But the grassroots support in Connecticut is with me.” The East Haven DTC agreed, giving her their endorsement (Enfield’s DTC has also endorsed her).
The idea that Bysiewicz is some sort of grassroots outsider is weird, to say the least. She’s held elected office in Connecticut since Chris Murphy was in college, and she’s been involved in the political world longer than that. She held the position of Secretary of the State and ran a large state agency for twelve years before finding herself unemployed this January. The strike against Murphy is that he’s a Washington insider, but Bysiewicz is, if anything, one of the highest-profile Hartford insiders. What, exactly, is the difference besides just scale? Anyone who believes Hartford is somehow ethically superior to Washington hasn’t been paying attention. Plus, Bysiewicz herself doesn’t exactly have a sparkling clean record from her time in the Capitol, either.
The big problem for Bysiewicz is that there is next to no daylight between her and Murphy when it comes to actual positions on the issues, which is why the campaign is turning to this kind of attack at such an early stage. This is usually the point in the cycle when every candidate is still on speaking terms with their potential intra-party rivals, after all. Bysiewicz originally had a reputation as a bare-knuckles primary campaigner, largely earned during her race for State Representative and later Secretary of the State in the 1990s. However, her last few campaigns for higher office have been far more anemic. She briefly ran for governor during the 2006 and 2010 cycles, only to drop out well before the convention after raising neither much money nor interest. Her attorney general campaign was (briefly) more successful, but still wasn’t exactly inspiring. The 2012 edition of Susan Bysiewicz might end up being a return to her original style.
It makes a kind of sense. Murphy is a strong candidate who can clearly raise a lot of money, and he’ll be very tough to beat. The “D.C. Insider” bit may be just a preview of attacks to come. For Bysiewicz, the stakes are high. Republicans, after briefly flirting with Senate race relevance in 2010, are now back to polling well behind any of the Democrats, so the next occupant of Joe Lieberman’s seat may well be decided by this nomination fight. Bysiewicz may not get many more chances to run for higher office, either, so it’s understandable that she’s throwing herself into this contest.
Will her strategy work? There’s more than a year until the convention and possible primary, but if things keep going this way we could be in for a brutal nomination fight. She may be able to convince DTC members and do well at the convention, but primary voters, especially Democrats, seem to have little tolerance for a steady stream of negative attacks (ask Joe Lieberman). Still, a recent poll suggested that she was running just about even with Murphy, though it’s hard to believe that potential Democratic primary voters have given the matter any serious thought so far in advance.
So, is Susan Bysiewicz really back, or is this her final flare out? Will she be able to present herself as a credible alternative to Murphy, or will her early attacks backfire on her? Will she be able to recast herself as a populist outsider, or will her recent past come back to haunt her? No matter what the answers are, her surprisingly strong fundraising numbers are sure to keep her in the race, and a thorn in Chris Murphy’s side, for the foreseeable future.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife, and cats.