Having won primaries twice before, Susan Bysiewicz said capturing the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination next August “will be about finding enough friends to make it happen.”
“It can be about the other candidates, or some differences on issues and focus, but primaries are usually about getting your friends to the polls,” Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state, said last week.
Bysiewicz is trying to find more friends by portraying herself as more of a populist than U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy of Cheshire, who early polls say is the Democratic frontrunner.
Last week she announced a 34-page policy statement and an accompanying Internet video that features a financial transaction tax that she believes would “put the brakes” on casino-style Wall Street trading. The revenue generated from the tax would be used to assist some of the 15 million homeowners who are facing mortgage default.
“Some people think that instead of bailing out Wall Street, we should have bailed out Main Street,” Bysiewicz, said after speaking to the Watertown Democratic Town Committee last week.
“Without a revival of the real estate market, we can’t hope to get the economy going, because it’s not only slowing the construction industry, it is keeping many people from spending money on consumer items.”
Bysiewicz, who served as secretary of the state for 12 years, has spoken to more than 90 Democratic Town Committees and has held dozens of meet and greet events in supporters’ homes since entering the race in January for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
She predicted that 175,000 Democrats will vote in the primary next August, a figure larger than last year’s Democratic gubernatorial balloting, but smaller than the party’s record turnout for the 2006 U.S. Senate primary
“One of the advantages that Susan has is that she has the time to do this, since she is not in Washington during the week as Chris Murphy is,” said Robert Marconi of Brookfield, an assistant attorney general who was the Democratic convention nominee in the Fifth Congressional District in 2004.
“I think after attorney general, secretary of the state is the most visible position on the under-ticket,” said Marconi, who has not endorsed a candidate. “She is benefitting from having a lot of goodwill across the state.”
“I know there are a bunch of people on our Democratic Town Committee that are strong for her because of her support for our local party through the years, but Chris Murphy also has his supporters here,” said Joe Polletta, who worked as an intern for Bysiewicz in the secretary of the state’s office and is now a member of the Watertown Town Council and local town committee.
“She communicates well with people and she did a lot of outreach to get more people to vote,” he said. “Connecticut has had one of the highest turnouts in the country. Based on my research, I think she is one of the best secretaries of the state that Connecticut has had.”
During her tenure, Bysiewicz sponsored several recognition events to honor World War II and Korean War veterans, state and municipal officials and firefighters. Many political insiders accused her of using these events to boost her image on the campaign trail.
“I think people remember those good things,” she said when asked if that outreach might aid her campaign.
Bysiewicz, who two years ago last month was in first place among the potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates in a Quinnipiac poll, trailed Murphy in the polls and in fundraising since the U.S. Senate race began 11 months ago.
The last Quinnipiac poll, taken in September, had Murphy at 36 percent, Bysiewicz at 26 percent and state Rep. William Tong of Stamford at 1 percent in a Democratic primary.
Through the most recent quarter, which ended in September, Murphy had raised $2.7 million, compared to $1.25 million by Bysieiwicz and $725,000 by Tong.
“Chris has the lead, but I would say Susan has at least a one in three chance of winning the primary,” Marconi said.
Bysiewicz received support from Emily’s List and some other women’s political organizations, but U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, snubbed her recently by announcing her support for Murphy.
Connecticut’s other Democratic congressmen – Rosa DeLauro, John Larson, Joe Courtney and Jim Himes – and three state constitutional officers – Attorney General George Jepsen, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Comptroller Kevin Lembo endorsed Murphy early in the campaign.
“I’ve never been the favorite of the insiders because I’ve stood up for things that I believed in, like lobbying reform and other reforms,” said Bysiewicz, who won each of her two previous primaries after losing at the convention.
In 1992 she defeated former Middletown Mayor Anthony Marino for the Democratic nomination in the 100th state House district and in 1998 she upset then-state Rep. Ellen Scalettar of Woodbridge for the party’s nod for secretary of the state.
“Those primaries were similar to the one I have now,” Bysiewicz said.
Among Murphy’s advantages is that he is from the Fifth District, the one congressional district that Linda McMahon of Greenwich , the apparent Republican frontrunner, won in her unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate last year.
However, Bysiewicz’s campaign said that geography doesn’t matter.
“A Democrat is going to win the general election regardless of what happens in the primary,” said Jonathan Ducote, her campaign manager. “There is a Gallup poll that indicates Connecticut is one of the five bluest states in the country.”
Some Democrats said the party can’t dismiss the Republicans, even though they haven’t won a U.S. Senate election since Lowell Weicker captured a third term in 1982.
Watertown Democratic Town Committee Chairman Heather Keidel Irwin said she views McMahon as “a potentially formidable opponent,” since she spent $50 million of her own money last year.
McMahon is running for the GOP nod against former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays of Bridgeport, attorney Brian K. Hill of Windsor, former Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy and attorney Kie Westby of Thomaston.
In 2006 Bysiewicz appeared destined for a major office after she won a third term as secretary of the state with 69.8 percent of the vote, the highest of any of the candidates on the statewide ballot.
She surprised political insiders by deciding in early 2010 to run for attorney general instead of governor, and was considered the favorite to succeed Blumenthal after he launched his U.S. Senate campaign.
However, Bysiewicz didn’t even get nominated at the convention after the state Supreme Court ruled three days earlier that she didn’t have the required 10 years of experience as a practicing attorney in Connecticut. A Superior Court had earlier ruled in her favor.
On election day she was criticized after 12 of the 23 polling places in Bridgeport ran out of ballots, but insisted that it was the registrars of voters in that city that should be blamed for underestimating the potential turnout there.
Later that week she was accused of prematurely declaring Democrat Dannel Malloy of Stamford the winner over Tom Foley of Greenwich in a gubernatorial election that was determined by 6,404 votes, making it the closest election for the position since 1954.
“I think what happened after the election is the thing that sticks in most people’s minds,” Polletta said in an interview.
“I think that probably is more the case with Democratic activists who will be delegates at the convention than with grassroots Democrats who will be voting in the primary,” Marconi said.
“They really don’t,” Bysiewicz said when asked if people discuss her recent obstacles at campaign events.
“They’re concerned about the economy and about their children finding a job after they have graduated from college,” she said.