CT Senate Debate

Tuesday morning. The first debate of Democratic Candidates for U.S. Senate in Connecticut this year took place at University of Hartford last night and everyone is bound to be out spinning the results and claiming victory. As is often the case, I have my own peculiar perspective which I hope will flavor some of the discussion.

Friends of mine spoke highly of Merrick Alpert’s appearance last night and a Richard Blumenthal support wrote to say that she did not think Blumenthal helped himself by debating Alpert so early.

Alpert did do very well, trying to wrap himself in the mantle of Paul Wellstone and Howard Dean by claiming to represent the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party. He went on the offensive against ‘incrementalism’. However, his rhetoric did seem a bit over the top at times. For example when he spoke about his mother-in-law and Cuba, it almost sounded like he said he could see Cuba from his mother-in-law’s house.

One of the narratives leading up to the debate was that Alpert is a fringe candidate that shouldn’t be taken seriously. I always dislike and distrust such narratives and I think Alpert did a good job of destroying that narrative.

On the other hand, Attorney General Blumenthal delivered a steady and solid performance. In fact, he seemed to take the famous Goldwater quote and turn it inside out. Incrementalism, in the pursuit of justice, is, in fact, a virtue. Alpert called for immediately normalizing relations with Cuba and for a single payer health care system. I agree with him that these are goals we should seek to obtain. However, it seems like Blumenthal, through his willingness to work incrementally through the system is much more likely to obtain them.

Another narrative that I would be very concerned about if I were part of the Blumenthal campaign is that Blumenthal is Coakley 2.0. Indeed, many have compared the current Blumenthal campaign to Coakley’s campaign and even gone so far as to suggest that Blumenthal might have been better served by Coakley’s team than by the team he’s assembled so far.

Blumenthal’s charismatic nature, showing up at just about every event in Connecticut has not been shining through in the campaign so far. Rob Simmons has ten times as many people following him on Twitter as Dick Blumenthal does, and they do a great job or repeating Simmons’ talking points.

This only furthers the Coakley narrative. Coakley was the Massachusetts Attorney General who seemed likely to inherit Ted Kennedy’s seat. She was challenged by two progressive candidates in the primary, and while she received twice as many votes as her nearest competitor, she still did not receive a majority of the votes. She did not seem to get out there and campaign the way it has felt that Blumenthal has been campaigning for ever.

Fortunately for Blumenthal, he deflated this narrative a little bit last night. He showed himself willing to debate even a long shot underdog in an effort to talk seriously about the issues our state faces. He spoke about the importance of listening, something he’s always seemed good at doing. He would be well served to take attitude into the rest of his campaign.

Yet Blumenthal isn’t running just against Alpert. He is also running against Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon. It appears as if he has given bait to Simmons and Simmons has take the bait and ran with it. Simmons tweeted during the debate “Say what?! Blumenthal says his lawsuits “actually create jobs.” Bizarre. #ctgop #ctsen”. This was promptly picked up by his supporters and retweeted broadly. He then used it in a press release.

It seems striking that a former CIA operative like Rob Simmons would be so weak on crime. Typically Republican candidates are strong on crime, wanting to see state laws enforced. Simmons seems to be saying the corporate crime does not hurt citizens or honest business people.

In the end, Merrick Alpert came out much stronger than many suspected and it will help his campaign. However, Richard Blumenthal came out even stronger and showed why, despite his lackluster campaign so far, he would be a great senator. Rob Simmons on the other hand came out in defense of corruption and that is going to have to hurt his campaign.

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