There are few things more discouraging in political life than announcing your candidacy and having it blow up in your face before you can even get your bearings. And U.S. Senate candidate August “Augie” Wolf, a former Olympic athlete, should know the importance of not stumbling out of the starting blocks.
But stumble he did. A few months after announcing his candidacy last May, Wolf’s campaign operation began its meltdown.
At $84,000, the political newcomer’s fundraising haul from July 1 to Sept. 30 was feeble, especially considering the average amount needed to win a U.S. Senate race in 2012 was more than $10 million.
Perhaps in response to the dismal fundraising results, billionaire businessman David Koch agreed to host a $10,000-a-plate Manhattan fundraiser for Wolf. Talk about making matters worse. Even if you’re having trouble raising money, the Koch brothers are widely reviled in blue Connecticut. Have your photograph taken with one of ‘em at your peril.
Republican Wolf’s campaign to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal is also facing possible fines and other sanctions by the Federal Election Commission for failing to file its required year-end fundraising report. Probably an oversight. Then again, maybe the Wolf campaign was too embarrassed to report the numbers.
His campaign manager Tom Daly, a GOP operative and UConn law student, resigned in November. And Wolf has been plagued by other staffing problems. From the looks of it, his campaign staff has consisted of little more than a small group of young interns only a couple of years removed from their teens who either mismanaged his campaign or have been the victims of a hostile work environment, depending on whom you believe.
The 53-year-old Wolf, an investment advisor in Stamford, blamed the staffers for his failing campaign. But of course the question arises: who hired them and why did the more experienced staffers who preceded them leave the campaign?
Wolf’s travails illustrate the near-impossibility of mounting a successful GOP campaign for federal office in Connecticut. First of all, any Republican campaign will be plagued by its association with the reputation of the national party, which has become toxic in much of the Northeast.
The Connecticut Democratic Party is already trying that strategy with Clay Cope, the gay Republican first selectman of Sherman who recently announced a bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Esty in the centrist 5th Congressional District.
Without disclosing whom he supports for president, Cope noted that Esty was a booster of Hillary Clinton, whose husband signed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. Connecticut Democratic Party spokesperson Leigh Appleby fired back with a sharply worded statement.
“If Clay Cope wants to make presidential politics an issue this election, voters of the fifth district deserve to know exactly where he stands on his party’s front-runner. Will he ignore Donald Trump’s racist, hateful and bigoted policies, and join the chorus of Republicans around the country promising to support the nominee?”
There you go. A powerful talking point. Any Republican candidate for Congress in Connecticut will, once elected, march to Washington like a zombie to do the bidding of the loathsome Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. And while they’re at it, the Connecticut GOPers will pledge allegiance to the Koch brothers, who ironically have supported same-sex marriage at least as long as Hillary.
And if you can get past the stigma of the national GOP, you still have to contend with the difficulty of raising money to run against a well-heeled Democrat who is rarely vulnerable. That appears to be where Wolf stumbled. He had little resources and hired a very young staff that did not serve him well, in part because the boss failed to manage them properly. Not exactly the sign of a great leader.
No, the best way for Republicans to regain some influence in Connecticut is through the governor’s office. Governors can distance themselves from national parties. To wit, Massachusetts, our neighbor to the north, elected Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in 2014, despite the fact that the Bay State is much bluer than Connecticut (approximately 7-1 Democrats to Republicans in the legislature vs. 3-2 in Connecticut).
Maybe that’s why you’ll see an upper-tier Republican such as Joe Scarborough run for governor in 2018. With the state’s chronic fiscal woes front-and-center, any Democrat will be vulnerable.
But don’t look for that Democrat to be Gov. Dan Malloy. More likely, it will be Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, because if Hillary becomes president, the embattled Malloy will flee Hartford for a cabinet post, just as surely as his nemesis New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who now carries Donald Trump’s bags, will abscond from Trenton to join a Trump administration.
Only one thing is certain about the 2018 race for governor: the GOP nominee won’t be Augie Wolf.
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