In a big boost to U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon and a blow to former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, six former state Republican chairmen on Thursday all endorsed McMahon.
The independently wealthy McMahon doesn't need any money from the chairs, but she needs ground troops across the state. With decades of experience in state, local and national races, the former Republican chairs know how to pull strings and get out the vote all across the state.
The former chairs are among the best-known names in the state GOP, including Chris Healy, Chris DePino, George Gallo, Dick Foley, Herb Shephardson, and Bill Hamzy. DePino, Foley, and Hamzy all served in the state legislature. All six have raised money not only for individual candidates but for the party organization.
Many insiders believe that McMahon and Shays will square off in a hotly contested primary in August 2012. The winner would likely face one of three Democrats: U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy of Cheshire, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown or state Rep. William Tong of Stamford. While it is clearly early in the race, a poll released this week by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling says Shays would defeat Bysiewicz and Tong but would lose to Murphy by four percentage points. The same poll showed Murphy beating McMahon by 7 points.
All of the chairs have had dealings with Shays, a proven vote-getter in lower Fairfield County who won 11 straight races in a 21-year Congressional career that began with his surprising victory in 1987 to replace the late U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney of Fairfield.
Shays, a former longtime Stamford resident who lived briefly in Maryland before returning recently to Bridgeport, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Gallo said he respects Shays, but he simply believes that McMahon has the best chance of defeating the Democrats in November 2012.
"I'm in. I'm on the McMahon train,'' Gallo said. "It's a question of who we think is the most electable. ... We're seeing a more seasoned Linda McMahon from a campaign standpoint - based more on experience, based more on grass-roots efforts.''
Gallo expects McMahon to make a "180-degree turn'' from the 2010 campaign that cost $50 million and relied on two key factors: a tsunami of television advertisements and an equal blizzard of brochures that filled up mailboxes of Republicans and Democrats alike. Now, there will be more volunteers on the ground.
"You can't win the war via the air alone,'' said Gallo, who now serves as chief of staff for the state House Republicans and served as party chairman from 2005 to 2007. "You have to send in the ground troops.''
Gallo expressed strong support for McMahon campaign aide Christopher J. LaCivita, who served as the executive director of the Republican Party in Virginia at the same time that Gallo had the same post in Connecticut.
"I got to know him, and I got to like him,'' Gallo told Capitol Watch. "He was involved with some of the Swift Boat ads. It's almost like a guerrilla marketing campaign.''
The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth were a highly controversial group in the 2004 presidential race against John Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran who lost to Republican George W. Bush.
On a local level, McMahon is also piling up endorsements that might have gone to Shays in strongholds like Greenwich. State Rep. Livvy Floren, who represents one of the most affluent districts in the state, has endorsed McMahon, along with popular Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei. She also has the backing of former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, who came within one half of 1 percentage point in the 2010 gubernatorial battle against Democrat Dannel Malloy.
Both Shays and McMahon have been making the rounds as they both appeared recently at the 80th annual Cos Cob Republican clambake at Greenwich Point - a can't-miss event for aspiring Republican politicians.
The six chairs represent virtually all of the GOP chairs over the past 22 years. Two of the former chairs who were not on McMahon's list have moved into civil service positions and are no longer publicly involved in partisan politics. Richard Arnold was named a judge by former Gov. John G. Rowland, while John Mastropietro became a workers' compensation commissioner.
"Linda is a problem solver who knows what it takes to create jobs,” Healy said in a statement. “She will fight to lower taxes, reduce regulations and cut spending so we can get the people of Connecticut working again. I am proud to endorse Linda for the U.S. Senate.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun