Shays campaign looks for a boost from ‘the architect’

Facing lagging polling numbers and a fund-raising gap in his Senate race, former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays reached out for some big time help from his Washington days.

At a private event in Greenwich last Thursday, Mr. Shays was joined by Karl Rove, the former deputy White House chief of staff under President George W. Bush as well as the campaign guru known as “the architect” by his defenders and other, far more unprintable names by his critics. Mr. Rove, currently a Fox News contributor, is one of the biggest figures in Republican politics today and his help is coming at a critical time for Mr. Shays as he seeks to pull an upset in August’s Republican Senate primary against Linda McMahon.

Ms. McMahon, a Greenwich resident and endorsed Republican Party candidate, has increased her lead in the primary race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last Wednesday. In the poll, Ms. McMahon leads Mr. Shays by a 59%-30% margin in the Aug. 14 primary. This is an increase from the March 22 poll where she had a 51%-42% McMahon lead on the former congressman, who served from 1987 to 2008.

The increase in her lead shows a strong likelihood of a McMahon victory in the primary, according to Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz.

“Linda McMahon is now the clear front-runner for the GOP nod, crushing Congressman Christopher Shays by 29 points, after having led Shays by only nine points back in March,” Dr. Schwartz said. “It is hard to see how Shays can overcome such a large lead by primary day.”

Ms. McMahon has also shown great improvement in a prospective general election race with Democratic front-runner U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5) to replace the retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.). The poll found that the race is a near statistical dead heat now with Mr. Murphy leading by a 46% to 43% margin against Ms. McMahon. This is a reversal of previous polls, which had shown Mr. Murphy running far better against Ms. McMahon and in a tie with Mr. Shays.

According to the poll, Mr. Murphy leads former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz by a 50%-20% margin in the Democratic primary race. This is a big increase for him, since the March poll only had him up by a 37%-25% margin.

However, Mr. Rove, who guided President Bush to two terms in the White House as well as successful runs for governor of Texas, said he doesn’t believe Ms. McMahon is the strongest candidate against Mr. Murphy. He noted her defeat two years ago to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in what was otherwise an extremely big year for Republicans seeking office.

“With all due respect, she ran last time and had a 40 mile per hour wind behind her back and came up short,” Mr. Rove said. “I want to win this race and I think the guy who has got the ability to reach across lines and draw together the kind of coalition you need to win in Connecticut is Chris Shays. I appreciate her running last time and she ran a spirited race. 2010 was a year we won a lot of races with the wind at our back. Now we need a guy who is steady and solid and can not only walk into the wind, but has the courage to do so.”

Naturally, Ms. McMahon’s campaign objected to that contention. In a statement to the Post, McMahon campaign senior strategist Chris LaCivita said they “loved” that “Washington insiders” like Mr. Rove were supporting Mr. Shays, who also picked up the endorsement last week of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party’s presidential candidate in 2008.

“Linda McMahon is the most electable Republican running for the United States Senate, and the only one that is in a position to beat Chris Murphy,” Mr. LaCivita said. “No amount of Washington spin can change the fact that data don’t lie.”

Mr. Rove said that based on the times they worked together, he felt that Mr. Shays is the better candidate for the Republicans.

“He’s an independent voice and he speaks his mind plainly,” Mr. Rove said. “That was why we liked him back then and it still holds true today. We didn’t agree with him 100% of the time and he didn’t agree with us 100% of the time, but he’s an honest guy and he did what he thought was right. I always admired him for that.”

It’s that reputation for independence that Mr. Shays enjoys that made the use of Mr. Rove at the fund-raiser a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Mr. Rove is in some circles famous and in others infamous for being one of the more partisan Republicans in politics, using hard line tactics that have caused opponents to cry foul in past races. However, Amanda Bergen, communications director for the Shays campaign, said there was nothing out of character about the fund-raiser.

“Karl Rove has one of the best strategic minds in politics today,” Ms. Bergen said. “He believes Republicans can take the U.S. Senate this year and one of the races he believes can contribute to that is Connecticut’s, but only if Christopher Shays is the nominee. He has taken a good look at this race and concluded Christopher can win it, and Christopher is grateful for Karl’s faith in him.”

Mr. Shays said he realizes the challenge ahead of him and that he wasn’t going to deny the new poll numbers.

“There have been three polls and I’m going to take each one as they come,” Mr. Shays said. “What it told me is that I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me. I’ve got to get my name out there. I’ve got to introduce myself to people who don’t know me in other parts of the state. The bottom line is I love this country. I love this state and I know I can make a difference in the United States Senate. That’s why I’m running.”

Mr. Rove, no slouch when it comes to polling, said the numbers have a lot to do with Ms. McMahon’s early TV blitz with advertisements running before any of the other candidates, either Republican or Democrat.

“A couple of million dollars of unanswered TV does wonders,” Mr. Rove said. “That’s why I’m here today. I want to help him raise some money to put up some of his own. I’m confident in Chris’ ability to put together the kind of coalition he needs. He just needs the resources to get his message out. If he does that I’m confident in how it’s going to come out.”

The guest list for the fund-raiser included state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. and Republican congressional candidate Steve Obsitnik, who is running for Mr. Shays’ old seat. Neither have given an endorsement in the upcoming primary, though and Ms. McMahon continues to have strong support among Republican leaders, adding Greenwich Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Campbell to her list last week. Mr. Campbell had long been an unofficial supporter of Ms. McMahon, but this week it was formalized in a campaign press release.

“Linda has a real commitment to representing the best interests of the people of Connecticut. She’s not a quitter, and I admire that. Having seen how hard she has worked to reach out to people all over our state during the campaign, I have no doubt she will work even harder to represent us in Washington,” Mr. Campbell said in a campaign press release.

His endorsement is a personal one and not meant to reflect the will of the RTC, but as a resident here, Ms. McMahon has high popularity among town Republicans and the town will likely be a stronghold for her in the Aug. 14 primary.


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