Scott Benjamin photo

Everyone seems to want to be considered the underdog in the U.S. Senate race, but if early polling data is any indication, state Rep. William Tong, currently holds that title with just one percent of the vote.

But he’s not giving up.

“I think I have a much stronger command of the economic issues than my two competitors,” Tong said, contrasting his experience with that of his Democratic opponents, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown.
“The difference between me and Chris and Susan is that I’ve had to fight for most things in my life,” he said at Sunday’s Ridgefield Democratic Chowder Fest.

However, Tong, who had Barack Obama as a professor for a Constitutional Law class at the University of Chicago, faces huge obstacles, since the U.S. Senate isn’t considered to be the next step up the ladder for a third term state representative and he lags well behind his two opponents in the polls and fundraising.

“When William told me he was running, I said to him, ‘Who am I to say that you shouldn’t swing for the fences,’ ” U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said.

“He’s done a lot of good stuff,” he said. “It’s obvious to everybody that he has one heck of a hill to climb, but he’s a hard worker and a committed guy.”

Zach Dendas, who was a field coordinator on Himes’ re-election campaign last year in the Fourth District, said Murphy’s Washington experience is an advantage in the race for the seat currently held by U.S. Sen.  Joseph Lieberman.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month shows Murphy with 36 percent of the votes among likely voters in a Democratic primary, Bysiewicz at 26 percent and Tong with just 1 percent.

Tong, who formally entered the race in May, hauled in an impressive $560,000 in just 53 days during the quarter that ended in June.

However, through the most recent reporting period, Murphy raised almost $2.66 million, Bysiewicz raised $1.25 million and Tong, who collected just $155,000 for the quarter that ended last month, raised a total of $715,560.

“By most people’s estimation, it was the toughest fundraising quarter in history,” Tong said. “It’s a lousy economy out there and people have an unprecedented level of disillusionment with their government. Congress has a 12 percent approval rating. In the past, people might be upset with Congress but still have a favorable opinion of their individual congressman, but that that gap has narrowed considerably.”

Tong said even Murphy’s numbers were off.

“You look at Chris Murphy’s [fundraising] numbers and he’s off by 34 percent for the last quarter,” he said. “Susan is off quite a bit, and I’m off. That’s true across the country.”

Scott Benjamin photo

Tong is still proud of his first fundraising push.

“I surprised a lot of people by raising $560,000 in half a quarter,” Tong said. “Nobody thought I could do that. Nobody thought that I could raise money at the same daily rate as Chris Murphy. Nobody thought when I announced that I would have raised almost three-quarters of a million dollars by this time.”

Tong, who has been traveling across the state since this spring, said Connecticut has a diverse economy.

“Tolland is a very different place than Ridgefield,” he said “There are a lot of local economies. You have, for example, the casino economy in Montville and Ledyard and then you have financial services in lower Fairfield County. “

Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee Chairman Susan Cocco said she believes that Linda McMahon of Greenwich, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is the favorite to win the Republican nomination.

She said she doesn’t think that former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays of Bridgeport will be able to compete with McMahon, who spent $50 million on her campaign last year.

“I think he’s been out of the state for too long,” Cocco said, referring to Shays’ decision to leave Connecticut and take a job in Washington D.C. after his loss to Himes in 2008.

Attorney Brian K. Hill of Windsor and Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy also are seeking the GOP nod.

McMahon lost by 12 points last year to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Greenwich. She had captured the Republican nomination in a primary against former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons of Stonington and Peter Schiff of Weston, the CEO of Euro-Pacific Capital.

The Democrats avoided a potential primary after businessman Merrick Alpert of Mystic, who served as an aide to former Vice President Al Gore, withdrew his name from consideration just before the convention and endorsed Blumenthal.

Himes said the Democrats could benefit from a primary next summer.

“I’m a believer that they can be healthy things, particularly in a statewide race where none of the candidates are well known,” he said.

Tong agrees.

“It helps sharpen the candidate that will take our party to the general election,” Tong said. “A robust primary gets you out in the media.”