Former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays is no stranger to hard fought primaries. That’s what his wife, Betsi, told the crowd of supporters at the Old State House in Hartford where her husband officially announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
She said the guy who wasn’t supposed the win the Republican primary for U.S. Congress in 1987 against two wealthy opponents in a four-way race—won it. Then five weeks before the general election when he was behind in the polls 55 to 25 percent and “he won it,” Mrs. Shays said.
Shays spent $60,000 on that campaign compared to more than $200,000 spent by both John Becker and Frank Rich.
Shays, who first served as a state representative for 13 years, went on to serve 21 years in Congress before he was defeated in 2008 by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.
“He earned a reputation for working with others to get things done,” Mrs. Shays said. “You have in Chris Shays a man with experience, guts, and integrity who is ready to go on day one.”
In his more than 20-minute speech Shays talked about how Washington is broken and how it’s time for the U.S. Senate to get to work on repealing Obama’s health care law, balancing the budget, simplifying the tax code, investing in American infrastructure, and working toward energy independence.
He offered one line of criticism for Democratic frontrunner, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, when he said, “the leading Democrat in this race walks lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and the miss-guided Obama agenda.”
And he lingered briefly on how he believes “a candidate for public office should be elected, not anointed.” The statement was perceived as a shot at his top Republican opponent Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, who spent $50 million of her personal fortune on her U.S. Senate race in 2010.
Asked what he meant by the statement at a press conference after the announcement, Shays said, “I want to make it very clear all Americans have the right to run for public office. All Americans have that right…but no one should ever make the assumption that they can be anointed. You can’t be anointed with money, you can’t be anointed just because you served in office, you have to prove yourself.”
Shays, who came shy of his fourth quarter fundraising goal when he raised just $422,145, said he raised $3 million in 2008 and $4 million in 2006.
“I think we need to raise that sum of money to get our story out,” he said. But “It doesn’t take the sum of money that some people think it takes.”
Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who ran against McMahon in 2010 and is supporting Shays’ candidacy, said he had raised $3 million last year before the Republican convention in May. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal who bested McMahon in the general election raised about $6 million to defeat her by double-digits proving money doesn’t always win elections.
Statistics show that 90 percent of self-funders often lose elections, Simmons said. Connecticut voters are not willing to sell their Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose father represented the 4th Congressional District before Shays, said he thinks the party will support the best Republican candidate “whether you have money or don’t have money.”
He said he’s confident the party will look at who has the best vision, and who is the most electable.
According to Public Policy Polling , a Democratic polling company, Shays seems to be the stronger candidate in the general election against the Murphy, the Democratic frontrunner.
In a poll taken last September, Shays trailed Murphy only 43 to 39 percent.
“Shays’ strength lies in his appeal to both Democrats and independents,“ the poll concluded.
Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, compared Shays to U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman who won his 2006 re-election bid as an Independent after losing the Democratic nomination to Ned Lamont.
He said no one should underestimate Shays’ ability to deal with what Lieberman dealt with in 2006, which was a backlash from his own party.
“There are plenty of moderate Republicans in the state,” McLean said. “Shays has the ability to adapt to a changing political landscape.”
Like Shays, McMahon would be considered a moderate in the Republican party because she’s not socially conservative. But McLean said he doesn’t think the race will come down to ideology as much as it will come down to money.
“Two years ago Republicans had a choice between someone with a really good record, who has experience in Washington, and they went with the one that has more money and could self-finance her campaign,“ McLean said.
In the end it will boil down to who they think can beat the Democratic candidate and that calculation may rely more heavily on money than ideology, McLean, who is supporting Democratic candidate Susan Bysiewicz, said Wednesday.
Money puts Shays at a disadvantage just like it put Simmons at a disadvantage when he sought the Republican nomination last year.
“What we learned last year is that you can spend $50 million on a Senate race and lose by double digits,” Simmons told CTNewsjunkie last October.
Asked if there was room for a Republican like Shays in the Republican Party, Simmons said “there’s always room for someone competence and character.”
“If, in fact, the people of Connecticut want a candidate who knows how to get the job done, you’ve got one right here,” Simmons said Wednesday.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put out a statement Wednesday trying to paint the race for the Republican nomination as one between a Washington insider and a wealthy outsider.
“With his announcement today, Chris Shays officially kicks off a divisive and expensive primary between a Washington insider and a greedy CEO who got rich marketing sex and violence to children, all at the expense of her workers’ health and safety,“ the statement said.
“Chris Shays and Linda McMahon will now spend the next few months pandering to the Tea Party and attacking one another for peddling influence or mistreating workers. Connecticut voters have rejected both candidates before, and will do so again this year.”