So what’s going on with former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT)? The former Congressman suspended his campaign for Senate in late May after he lost the state Republican convention vote to former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon. But now he’s back on TV with a $350,000 ad buy, telling voters in the August 10 Republican primary that he’s still on the ballot and they do still have a choice.
In an interview with TPMDC, Simmons shied away from saying he was back in the race — or that he was ever out of it at all, instead saying that he had “scaled back” his campaign. Simmons told TPMDC in a phone interview last night that everywhere he goes, people have told him that he’s still their preferred candidate. Plus, he noted, “I’m just as competitive against Richard Blumenthal as Mrs. McMahon, and she’s spent a ton of money.”
Simmons told us that if McMahon were to win the primary, he would certainly support her as the endorsed Republican candidate in November. He also told us that he could potentially continue to spend more money from his war chest for further TV advertising before the primary. (He had $1.2 million cash on hand in his pre-convention report, covering the period up through May 1.) “Whether we spend it all remains to be seen,” said Simmons. “I’m a fiscal conservative. I’m not convinced we’re gonna spend it all.”
So what changed, I asked? Is he back in the race? “It’s correct to say that I’ve been on the ballot since the convention and everybody knows that,” Simmons told me. “So in that regard there’s been no change, I’m on the ballot. In the intervening months since the convention I scaled back my campaign to give the other candidates time to pursue their campaigns. But there’s been no debates, nothing, and recent polls have shown that nothing has moved at all. I’m just as competitive against Richard Blumenthal as Mrs. McMahon, and she’s spent a ton of money.”He continued: “I’ve been a public servant for a long time. I’ve got a lot of people that have helped me and supported me over time. And everywhere I’ve gone since the convention, people have said to me stuff like, ‘I’m gonna write you in.’ And I’ve said, ‘You don’t have to, I’m on the ballot.’ So I thought it was important to let my people know, I’m on the ballot.”
What of the criticism from McMahon, I asked, pointing out that Simmons previously said before the convention that he would not fight out the primary if he lost at the convention? Simmons pointed me to his statement that he posted at the time he scaled back the campaign, which pointed out that no other candidate had taken up his attempt to unite all the competitors behind such a pledge:
“For some time now I have expressed the hope that all the Connecticut Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate would agree to unite behind the convention winner to avoid a divisive and expensive primary. No one accepted the challenge. The Simmons for Senate campaign has every right to proceed with a primary challenge based on our convention record of winning 46% of the vote.
“Speaking for myself and my family, however, we understand the mathematical reality of competing against an opponent with unlimited financial resources who has already invested over 16 and a half million dollars in this campaign – by far more than any senate candidate in the country – and who has an unlimited ability to continue spending at an extraordinary rate.
“I said I would curtail my campaign, scale it back, let my staff go to support other candidates, but my name would remain on the ballot,” Simmons explained. “Now what I’m pointing out, is that my name is on the ballot.”
How would Simmons feel, I asked, if his late return to the airwaves resulted in McMahon winning the primary by only a narrow margin, and the party and its voters were viewed as being divided and unenthusiastic about her as a result — and what if he were blamed for this? “My response would be that we have three people on the ballot, and people have to make a choice,” said Simmons. “And if the ballot selection is close, it means people have different points of view. Guess what, that’s the way politics works. That’s what it’s all about, it’s about people making choices.”
The TPM Poll Average for the Republican primary shows McMahon with a lead of 43.4%-29.6% over Simmons plus 10.0% for financial commentator Peter Schiff. In the general election, McMahon trails Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal by 52.5%-38,8%, and Simmons trails Blumenthal by 52.7%-35.7%.
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