McMahon looks to Independent Party bid – Could Whitnum do the same?

The idea of a political showdown between Greenwich residents Linda McMahon and Lee Whitnum might have seemed absurd a few weeks back, but both say they are now seeking placement on the U.S. Senate ballot as representatives of the Independent Party.

The two are running night and day kind of campaigns when it comes to prominence in the state. Ms. McMahon is the endorsed candidate for the Republican Party to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.) and is currently leading former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays in polls for their August primary. Ms. Whitnum on the other hand sought the Democratic nomination for senate and after a controversial campaign she received no support at the party’s convention last month. Now she has said she is leaving the Democratic party and seeking the Independent Party’s line.

And while a spokesman for Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said they have received the proper paperwork from Ms. McMahon’s campaign and they are now allowed to collect signatures for the Independent Party bid, there has been no contact at all from Ms. Whitnum, leading to the possibility that this could be a show down of only words and not actions.

In a statement to the Post, Erin Isaac, communications director for the McMahon campaign said that the candidate’s focus is on winning the August primary to be the Republican candidate. For Ms. McMahon getting the Independent Party’s nod would be a helpful bonus for her general election run as a Republican, but for Ms. Whitnum her entire future presence in the race could depend on getting the support.

Ms. Whitnum has been a lightning rod of controversy on several occasions. Her campaign has made the United States’ support of Israel a central theme and she infamously referred to Mr. Murphy during a debate as “a whore” for what she perceived as bought and paid for support from him for the goals of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which Mr. Murphy took great exception to. Ms. Whitnum has also been accused of anti-Semitism on several occasions, most notably by Gov. Dannel Malloy when he was mayor of Stamford in 2008. Ms. Whitnum had filed suit against Mr. Malloy over those comments only to have it dismissed earlier this year and has also accused state Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo of “maligning” her.

Last month Ms. Whitnum said she was no longer running as a Democrat but would continue her campaign. Without the Independent Party it is likely she would have to run a completely independent campaign with no party support.

Ms. McMahon’s actions to get a secondary placement on the ballot with another party are hardly uncommon. Major candidates typically run on two lines and it is highly likely that Mr. Murphy will appear on the ballot this fall as both the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party. Mr. Murphy is currently leading former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in polling for the Democratic primary and is considered the clear front runner with the party’s support including Gov. Dannel Malloy, Sen. Richard Blumethal (D-Ct.) and the entire Connecticut delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But before the matter of who can represent the Independent Party on the ballot this fall is settled, the matter of who actually speaks for the Independent Party needs to be resolved. Currently there is a visible split in the party with two sides each claiming to speak for the party. One side, represented by Michael Telesca from Waterbury is thought to be pushing for Ms. McMahon and meeting opposition from Robert Fand of Danbury.

Av Harris Director of Communications for Ms. Merrill told the Post that the Secretary of State’s Office has “no role” right now in determining which group will speak for the Independent Party.

“If this ends up in court we might be dragged into it, but right now we have no formal role in settling this,” Mr. Harris said. “They are both claiming to be the Independent Party and as of right now this is not a situation where they have both put candidates forth who claim they represent the party.”

While he said he didn’t like dealing in hypothetical situations, Mr. Harris did put forth the possibility that the two sides could indeed both try and put different candidates forward.

“If you have a situation where two candidates both have enough signatures the Independent Party will have to issue a letter of endorsement for one of them,” Mr. Harris said. “It can’t have two endorsed candidates. At that point we would contact both factions and say we have to end this and either a decision is going to have to be made by the party or this will have to be settled in court or neither of the candidates is going to end up being on the ballot for the Independent Party.”

According to Mr. Harris, for someone to appear on the ballot as a member of the Independent Party they would first have to collect 7,500 signatures from registered voters in Connecticut before a deadline of Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. While he said the office had heard from Ms. McMahon and had issued her campaign the necessary forms to collect the signatures, they had not received anything from Ms. Whitnum as of this week.

Ms. Whitnum did not respond to requests for comment or clarification from the Post but did release a statement on June 1 saying that she was continuing to seek the Independent Party nomination. She said that she supported the claim of Mr. Telesca to be the voice of the party and said that Mr. Fand is only doing this to help Ms. McMahon.

“McMahon and her money are behind this,” Ms. Whitnum said, noting that she spoke to Mr. Telesca and others in the party last month and that the Republican front runner wasn’t there.

“Where was McMahon?” Ms. Whitnum asked in her statement. “If McMahon is not there then she is not a candidate.”

In her statement, Ms. Whitnum says that Republican Brian K. Hill is also seeking the Independent Party’s nomination along with her and Ms. McMahon, but that is apparently news to the Hill campaign. In an interview with the Post on Monday, Jennifer Lee, Mr. Hill’s field director, gave every indication that they will be ending the campaign this week. Mr. Hill sought the Republican nomination against Ms. McMahon and Mr. Shays and after the convention explored collecting signatures to get in the Republican primary set for August. But Ms. Lee said it doesn’t appear the volunteer support is there.

“I’m not certain we will continue on as a candidate,” Ms. Lee said. “We don’t think we have the volunteers we need to be able to collect the signatures.”

Ms. Hill said that no final decisions have been made yet but that the campaign expected to issue a press release on its status later this week. As of deadline for this week’s edition of the Post, nothing had yet been released.

When asked about Ms. Whitnum’s statement, Ms. Lee said she didn’t know anything about it.

“Brian has never had a conversation with her,” Ms. Lee said.


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