Richard Blumenthal, Josh Penry exit Governor’s races

Blumenthal and Simmons deny interest in succeeding Rell

Jodi Rell’s abrupt announcement that she will not seek re-election has altered Connecticut’s political landscape, but the biggest question mark has already been take care of: Attorney General Richard Blumenthal made it clear he would not jump in the now open race.

At the same time, Blumenthal delighted liberals nationwide by making it clear he is looking at running for Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat in 2012. “It would be a challenge that I would welcome, if it were the right time to do it, and I thought I could make a difference,” he said. “Stay tuned.” (Note that Lieberman has yet to make it clear whether he’ll seek the Democratic nomination, run as an independent from the start or even enter the Republican primary.)

Blumenthal would have entered the Democratic primary with an edge given his prominent stature, so his exit leaves the race wide open: A Quinnipiac poll released this morning finds Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz leading Ned Lamont 26% to 23%, with Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy at 9%. This is anyone’s race to win.

In the general election, Quinnipiac tested Rell since the survey was completed before the governor announced her retirement. There is speculation that the pollster leaked the results to the Governor’s office and that Rell took her decision after seeing that she was leading Bysiewicz by a worrisome margin: 46% to 40%. (In February, she was ahead by 21%.) But Rell posts much wider leads against Lamont (53% to 33%) and Malloy (52% to 33%).

Thus, Lamont might have his share of dedicated supporters that carry him into a primary tie with Bysiewicz but he performs 14% worse than her in the general election - a result that cannot be explained by a difference of name recognition, since the two enjoy an equivalent level of notoriety. Rather, Lamont seems plagued by the resentment of Lieberman voters. His favorability rating is mediocre overall (31% to 24%, compared to 43-11 for Bysiewicz); it is weaker both among Democrats (45-11 compared to 55-3) and independents (27-27 compared to 41-12).

Of course, we know since Rell’s retirement that the Democratic nominee won’t have to face a Republican who is as uncommonly popular among independents as the incumbent, which dramatically improves the party’s prospects of picking-up the governorship.

On the other hand, we don’t yet know how voters view Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, who has over the past 48 hours solidified his hold on the Republican nomination thanks to other potential candidates ruling out gubernatorial runs. In particular, all 5 of the GOP’s Senate candidates (all of whom have a credible shot at the nomination) denied any interest in switching races. That means that state Senator Sam Caligiuri, former Ambassador Tom Foley, businesswoman Linda McMahon, economic commentator Peter Schiff and former Rep. Rob Simmons will still battle it out for the right to face Chris Dodd.

That says a lot about the Democratic senator’s vulnerability. Sure, if one of these Republicans were to switch races, he’d have to get through Fedele but that isn’t any more difficult than winning a 5-way Senate primary. But the GOP’s prospects of defeating Dodd are higher than those of defending the governorship: In a blue state like Connecticut, a Republican has a better shot at statewide victory if he’s facing an unpopular incumbent than if he’s running for an open seat, which is why some Democrats were eager to push Corzine off of the ballot this summer.

Penry leaves Colorado’s Republican field to McInnis

Another state in which a Republican candidate might benefit from an unexpectedly easy gubernatorial primary is Colorado. We were expecting a high-stakes battle between former Rep. Scott McInnis and state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, an ambitious 33-year old who was held up by many Republicans as a rising star of the party.

Yet, Penry was failing to gain much traction. Polls showed him widely trailing McInnis and he could not get the former representative to  treat him like a serious rival. Add to that the fact that Penry was up for re-election in 2010 (so he would not have been able to fall back to his seat in the state Senate had he lost the Governor’s race) and that he is young enough that he can wait for another opportunity, and it is no shocker that he decided to drop out.

His move leaves the Republican field to McInnis and sets up what should be one of 2010’s most competitive Governor’s races: Ritter vs. McInnis.

Polls have repeatedly shown the Republican narrowly ahead, which at least suggests that he doesn’t face a major electability problem and Democrats shouldn’t look forward to facing him. Sure, they will be able to use his years in Washington against him - the electorate has decisively soured on anyone’s whose part of Congress lately - but Penry faced his own problem: it can be difficult for candidates as young as Penry to be elected to an office like governorship.

Another reason that Republicans should be relieved is that Penry had little choice but to run an anti-establishment campaign. “I think there’s been a recognition that if we continue to run the same old campaign with the same old type of message, that’s there’s going to be the same old results, which are resounding election night defeats,” he said over the summer. That kind of rhetoric is typical for any candidate who is facing a more established contender, but in the current context it could have led this primary to be covered through the lens of the GOP’s civil war. Given that Colorado holds a late primary (August), the rifts that might have then been created could have boosted Ritter’s re-election prospects.

3 Responses to “Richard Blumenthal, Josh Penry exit Governor’s races”

  1. 1 Panos

    I have a hard time seeing how Lieberman could survive a Republican primary when lifelong Republicans like Crist, Simmons and Kirk are viewed with such suspicion, if not resentment, by the teabagging base. Just look what happened woth Arlen Specter.

    And it’s not like Lieberman is Ben Nelson. He is a leading voice against global warming, he is pro-choice, he supports EFCA and he supports gun control. When his opponent in the primary starts airing ads with these positions, I imagine his favorables among Republicans will melt like snow.

  2. 2 Taniel

    You’re right, Panos, though I’m not sure it’d be any less difficult than winning the Democratic primary. Especially since he has 3 more years to move further to the right, something he definitely looks interested in doing. (In 2006, I doubt even the most dedicated Lamont backers would have expected Lieberman to be the GOP’s keynote in 2008 and to be the main obstacle to health care reform in 2009.)

    As for running as an independent, well, that’s never easy to pull off, and it would require no high-profile Republican to run (like in 2006).

  3. 3 Panos

    I agree that an independent run seems more possible. But without the Democratic establishment behind him, as it was in 2006 covertly, and against Blumenthal, a much more experienced and well liked politician than Lamont, I doubt that he could win, even if the Republicans fielded no candidate.

    He would need to win independents in a landslide for this to happen and his favorables among that group are mediocre, to put it kindly. If he decides to move to the right on issues like abortion, labor or gun control, then I doubt that will improve his standing in a liberal state like Connecticut.

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