Republicans in the 4th congressional district may, according to a source quoted in the Greenwich Time, be courting Linda McMahon for a run against Rep. Jim Himes in 2014. I can hear the groans all the way from here; given that McMahon took two very expensive whiffs at a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 and 2012, this seems like the world’s worst idea.
A closer analysis shows that McMahon may be in a slightly better position for a run at Himes than we think, though Republicans will face a tough fight no matter who they nominate.
First, the bad news for those few Republicans dreaming of a McMahon run: she has never actually carried a single congressional district in either of her two races. She came close in the 5th in 2010, reflecting her greater strength in the western third of the state generally, but was trounced everywhere else. There’s more bad news: Jim Himes has been winning this district by increasingly large margins every year, and the district as a whole now swings far more Democratic than it did a decade ago.
Bridgeport has always reliably delivered large margins for Democrats, but now Norwalk, Stamford and Westport vote for Democrats by large margins as well. Towns like Trumbull and Shelton swing back and forth instead of being reliable Republican redoubts, and even Greenwich has gone for the Dems from time to time. Any Republican would have a miserable time in this district today, which leaves Linda McMahon staring up the same sort of steep hills she faced in 2010 and 2012.
The other bad news is that Linda McMahon is still, well, Linda McMahon. If voters didn’t warm to her in nearly four straight years of campaigning, why would they now? She spent mammoth sums of money and wound up with precious little to show for it. The woman who made a fortune selling stylized, choreographed violence to young men couldn’t manage to sell herself to a cynical, wary public. A third run, even for a different office, just sounds exhausting. Connecticut is kind of Linda-ed out, thanks.
This, admittedly, is a lot of bad news. But there is a sliver of good news here that might help McMahon make a case for a run, if she feels like blanketing a corner of Connecticut with direct mail pieces and TV commercials in 2014. First, McMahon did an awful lot better in the 4th district in 2012 than Himes’s hapless opponent, Steve Obsitnik.
She picked up several towns that Obsitnik lost, such as Trumbull, Shelton and Monroe, and lost the district by a much smaller margin overall. 2014 is more likely to resemble 2010 than 2012, and in that year she lost the 4th by only about 7,000 votes.
Therefore, it’s impossible to completely rule out a Linda McMahon candidacy against Jim Himes. McMahon herself says she has no plans to run.
That said, the big question here isn’t whether Linda McMahon could win (probably not) but whether any Republican can (maybe — though it’s a long shot). The district was shaken out of a long, long habit of strong support for moderate-to-liberal Republicans by the Iraq War and the myriad failures of the Bush administration.
In 2002, Rep. Chris Shays rolled to victory just as he had since he was first elected, but by 2004 he was fighting for his political life against a strong Democratic challenge. He managed to survive until 2008, when the Obama tide carried Jim Himes into office. There are still deep conservative roots here, especially in Darien and a few of the inland towns. Gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley managed to do well here in 2010, and the 4th still sends plenty of Republican representatives to Hartford. However, the current political climate in the region makes life difficult for Republicans looking to win above the level of the state legislature.
Because of this, Republicans will likely need someone with new, fresh ideas, a strong commitment to the kind of moderation favored by 4th district voters, and the ability to connect with people who aren’t wealthy white men if they want to win. In other words, not Linda McMahon. But if that person is out there, he or she may be able to make a lot of headway against Himes in a year that promises to be a tough one for Democrats across the state and the nation.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.