For the second time in two years, change is coming to the Land of Steady Habits. With U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman retiring, the race to succeed him in the U.S. Senate is already in full swing in Connecticut. But while a Senate race is always a high profile affair, it will be overshadowed by the Presidential contest on the ballot above it. Though the major political parties will not nominate their standard-bearers until August 2012, recent polling and the sagging popularity of the President may make the Senate race more competitive than conventional wisdom suggests.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy represents Connecticut’s Fifth District in Congress and polled ten points ahead of his next-nearest challenger for the Democratic Senate nomination, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. According to the Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday, Mr. Murphy holds a ten-point lead over Bysiewicz.
Quinnipiac further found that Ms. Bysiewicz is viewed unfavorably by 27 percent of the electorate compared to a 16 percent unfavorable rate for Murphy. The gap between the two among unaffiliated voters is even more striking with the Murphy seen unfavorably by 16 percent of respondents compared to 27 percent for Bysiewicz. But a closer look reveals the cause – voters don’t know Murphy as well. Once the campaigns really heat up, the contest between Murphy and Bysiewicz, not to mention state Rep. William Tong, could heat up in a hurry.
Linda McMahon, who ran for the Senate in 2010, begins the race for the Republican Senate nod with a 15-point lead, 50 percent to 35 percent, over former Congressman Christopher Shays. McMahon, however, also starts with some baggage – a 38 percent – 45 percent favorable/unfavorable rate despite the fact that the campaign hasn’t started yet. Shays, on the other hand, remains popular with voters despite having been out of state for the last few years with a 41 percent favorable rate and just 14 percent holding an unfavorable view.
While the August primaries will settle intraparty differences, the full impact of President Obama on the Senate race will be felt in the general election. President Barack Obama’s approval numbers have steadily declined since he took office from a high of 71 percent in April 2009 to his current all-time low of 48 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove.
If these numbers discourage fellow Democrats, it could set the stage for a stark turnaround from 2008 when Obama’s presence on the ticket created an enormous wave of enthusiasm for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. The Republican wave that swept the country in 2010 wasn’t enough to propel Linda McMahon into the U.S. Senate against the ever-popular Richard Blumenthal, but McMahon or Shays taking on the lesser-known Murphy, Bysiewicz or Tong with a weakened President on the top of the ticket may well be a different story.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com