With hindsight, the results of this week’s Connecticut primaries seem to fit the established patterns of both major parties in this state.
Connecticut Primary Lesson No. 1: Democratic voters decided it wasn’t smart to choose a 5th Congressional District candidate whose campaign was disintegrating under the pressure of a federal corruption investigation.
Connecticut Primary Lesson No. 2: Republican voters decided it was smart to choose a mega-millionaire weighed down by World Wrestling Federation sleaze as their U.S. Senate hope, even though she was crushed in her last U.S. Senate bid despite spending $50 million.
In both cases, these primary decisions were made by big margins. So most of the folks who went to the polls apparently had few doubts, and we’ll find out in November who was more in tune with Connecticut’s electorate.
Recent history, however, favors the Dems.
The fact that Democratic voters in the 5th CD primary went so heavily for state Rep. Elizabeth Esty (43 percent) over state House Speaker Chris Donovan (35 percent) was the biggest surprise. But it probably shouldn’t have been.
Donovan is one of this state’s ultimate legislative/political insiders, a liberal union guy heavily backed by unions and a General Assembly power-player better at backroom stroking than winning average voters with personality and persuasion.
Union backing and support from liberal Democrats in Connecticut usually gives a candidate a big edge in primaries. The unions and the activists usually carry extra weight in low-voter turnout primaries, but not this time.
Donovan simply wasn’t anywhere near good enough as a candidate to overcome the federal indictments of his top campaign staff and close associates. Democrats clearly became convinced he would have been dead meat in a November election even if he personally avoided ending up in court.
Esty isn’t any shoe-in for the general election against Republican state Rep. Andrew Roraback, but at least Democrats won’t have to worry about the feds throwing her up against a car hood and handcuffing her.
So it looks like that was a good political decision for the Dems, of the sort that’s given them a major-league grip on all of Connecticut’s top offices in recent years.
The entire congressional delegation (if you include “Independent Democrat” Joe Lieberman) is Democratic. Democrats are dominant in the state House and Senate. Dannel Malloy’s election in 2010 gives that party the governor’s office.
And it’s been a long, long time since Connecticut went for a Republican presidential candidate (George H.G. Bush over Michael Dukakis in 1988, in fact).
Which brings us to Connecticut’s Republicans, who overwhelmingly (by 3-1) preferred former WWE CEO Linda McMahon over former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays in the U.S. Senate contest.
Shays is an old-line Connecticut Republican moderate. But it appears the right-ward shift in the Connecticut GOP has left him high and dry and politically dead.
In her last U.S. Senate run, McMahon spent almost $50 million of her own fortune and ended up losing by double digits to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in a year that was deeply Republican just about everywhere but in Connecticut.
In this primary campaign, she blew away Shays by spending $13.4 million and deluging the airwaves with TV ads. (Shays had enough money for one ad run.)
She has courted the Tea Partiers. She has been embraced by a state Republican leadership that is just ecstatic over Mitt Romney’s selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and his right-wing budget agenda. She has tried (so far unsuccessfully) to convince women voters that she’s more than one of the people responsible for the WWE’s ugly portrayal of women (as in Vince McMahon’s famous “get down on your knees and bark like a dog” episode).
So, while average Connecticut voters have been moving to the left and increasingly into Democratic control, this state’s Republicans seem to be moving in the other direction.
Millionaires running for public office didn’t do so well in 2010 (all three GOP big money types lost), but that hasn’t sunk in with Republican primary voters.
The national Republican conservative agenda hasn’t been playing well at all in this state, yet this state’s GOP leaders seem to be saying, “Maybe it didn’t work before but, WTF, maybe it will this time.”
Or maybe not.