Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) surprised supporters Tuesday by suspending his campaign for Senate, just days after he promised that he would challenge the state party’s newly endorsed candidate in the GOP primary.
Simmons’s exit from the Connecticut race clears the path for former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon to win the GOP nomination — and, more important, enables Republicans to focus on state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the presumed Democratic nominee.
Although early polling in the race showed Blumenthal with a gaping lead over all of the GOP candidates, more recent surveys have shown the race within reach for Republicans — and even more so now that McMahon can zero in on her general election opponent.
“I think certainly it’s much more desirable for any candidate to have a clear run from May to November, so I certainly have to think it improves our chances, which I think are already stellar,” said convention delegate David McCarthy, a McMahon supporter. “Rob Simmons is certainly an honorable man. He’s done so much in our country, but I think he was smart enough and genuine enough to not attempt to divide us by doing a primary.”
After garnering the support of 46 percent of delegates at the May 21 state Republican convention, a defiant Simmons said he would run in the primary against McMahon — a reversal of his public pledge to step aside if he did not win his party’s endorsement. But in the days since Friday’s convention, Simmons’s campaign came to terms with the grim financial prospect of running against McMahon and decided Tuesday morning to suspend his campaign activities and release his staff.
“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 more than $16.5 million in this campaign — far more than any Senate candidate in the country — and who has an unlimited ability to continue spending at an extraordinary rate,” Simmons said in a statement.
While Simmons staffers were already vacating campaign offices late Tuesday morning, it wasn’t immediately clear whether his name would still appear on the Aug. 10 primary ballot. The party has 14 days after the end of the state convention to report the names of their candidates to Connecticut’s secretary of state, and Simmons did not explicitly say whether he would ask that his name be withdrawn. Simmons had far more than the necessary convention threshold of 15 percent to get on the ballot.
“The party has not reported to us officially. That 14-day period is usually when people make decisions like this,” said Av Harris, a spokesman with the secretary of state.
After it was apparent that he was going to lose the party’s endorsement Friday evening, Simmons met with his staff and supporters in a small room in the convention hall and told them he would continue his bid. Many of his supporters expected that after serving in the state Legislature and three terms in Congress, Simmons had a huge advantage among convention delegates because of his long career in Connecticut GOP politics. They were surprised to hear he was pulling out of the Senate race.
“We all expected him to run, and we were all surprised last night when we heard he wasn’t,” said former state Sen. Rob Russo, who was a Simmons delegate at the convention.
“I think it’s bruising to Rob and the campaign that he has given so much to the country, the party and his constituents and there wasn’t reciprocity there in terms of support that he was expecting,” added Mike Botelho, a longtime Simmons supporter and a convention delegate. “It’s kind of a slap in his face, and we feel it’s just not justified, but that’s the nature of politics. She had a war chest, and she was willing to spend it.”
Botelho said the Simmons campaign raised almost $10,000 online over the weekend, which he characterized as supporters’ reaction to his convention loss. But even his backers understood the formidable financial challenge he faced if he stayed in the primary.
“Even if he raises [$2 million or $3 million], Linda would’ve put $10 million in,” said Mike FitzPatrick, a Simmons supporter and a superdelegate. “That’s the problem. She has unlimited resources.”
Delegate Kevin McCain, who had held a fundraiser for Simmons, said he believed his candidate made the right decision to step aside and allow McMahon to unload her arsenal on Blumenthal.
“I think it makes sense. It’s very, very difficult for a challenger to run a race against someone who is so well-funded. It would’ve been a different story if he’d come out of the convention with an endorsement,” he said. “It’s better for Republicans to unite around one candidate we can all support.”
A May 18 Rasmussen Reports poll showed McMahon as the better-positioned opponent to Blumenthal. While the attorney general clung to a 3-percentage-point advantage over McMahon — a lead within the margin of error — Simmons trailed the likely Democratic nominee by 11 percentage points.