CT-Sen: Simmons Is In
Former Rep. Rob Simmons will challenge embattled Sen. Chris Dodd next November, a recruiting success for national Republicans who believe that the Connecticut Democrat has badly imperiled his chances at reelection over the last several years.
"The family had a long meeting today and was unanimous that I run,'' Simmons e-mailed the Associated Press on Sunday. "So, I'm running.'' Simmons added that a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing him in a dead heat with Dodd had helped close the deal for him.
Republicans were quick to tout Simmons's candidacy as evidence that the party was on its way back after a series of devastating losses in 2006 and 2008.
"Connecticut represents a tremendous opportunity for Republicans in 2010, particularly when you have an experienced and respected candidate like Rob Simmons already polling ahead of a 30 year incumbent," said National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Brian Walsh.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly released a rebuttal research document on Simmons that featured -- among other things -- a quote from the former congressman describing himself as a "big fan" of former president George W. Bush.
"Rob Simmons is no moderate -- he was a staunch supporter of George Bush's failed economic policies and this race will be an opportunity to hold him accountable for that record," said DSCC communications director Eric Schultz.
During Simmons's six years in Congress representing the eastern Connecticut 2nd district -- he was first elected in an upset victory over then Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D) in 2000 and beaten six years later by Rep. Joe Courtney (D) -- his votes did put him squarely at the center of the House, however, according to National Journal's vote ratings.
In his final three years in Congress, Simmons vote rating -- a 1 to100 scale of ideological voting -- was 53 percent (meaning he voted more liberally than 53 percent of his colleagues) in 2006, and 50.8 percent in 2005 and 2004.
Putting aside the debate over Simmons's ideology, he has several obvious strengths and one glaring weakness.
On the strength side, Simmons is a proven vote-getter and known commodity in a Democratic-leaning area. In 2000, then Vice President Al Gore carried the seat by 14 points and four years later Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) won it by 10. And, according to Swing State Project, President Obama won a huge 59 percent to 40 percent victory in the seat last November.
Simmons also knows the fundraising commitment required to run for and win a seat in Congress. He collected more than $3 million for his losing race against Courtney in 2006 and regularly topped $2 million raised during his time in the House.
Given that Dodd currently chairs the Senate Banking Committee and is a past chairman of the Democratic National Committee, it's a safe bet to assume he will raise and spend massive amounts of money to keep his seat -- making it absolutely necessary for his opponent to demonstrate a knack for fundraising.
Simmons's biggest problem is the fact that he held a seat in Congress during years of Republican rule that has proven decidedly unpopular in the last few years. Simmons will undoubtedly have to answer for any number of votes he made during that time and, as happened during his 2006 loss, he will have to deal with being tied -- directly and indirectly -- to Bush. (One Democratic strategist smartly notes that the record of members of Congress who were defeated for reelection but bounced back to win statewide office is quite short.)
At the center of this race is whether Democrats can take the focus off of Dodd and the ethics questions swirling around him and instead make the race a referendum on Simmons.
Dodd has given Republicans considerable fodder between his quixotic presidential run, his ties to the failed mortgage lender Countrywide and, of late, his Irish cottage, and must find a way to explain all of that away to an electorate already skeptical of him.
Put simply: Simmons's candidacy means that Dodd is in for his toughest reelection fight in his Senate career.
March 16, 2009; 12:31 PM ET
Categories: Republican Party , Senate
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