U.S. SENATE Republican primary: Chris Shays faces uphill battle

Republican Christopher Shays, former U.S. congressman for the 4th District who is running for the U.S. Senate, faces some tough odds in the Aug. 14 primary against the Republican Party-endorsed candidate Linda McMahon, but his fund-raising numbers are climbing, his campaign said recently.

Mr. Shays raised more money in the second quarter of 2012 than any other quarter this election cycle, his campaign said. A total of 1,262 donors contributed $530,811 in the second quarter: $166,407 before the Republican convention May 18 and more than double that — $364,404 — in the month-and-a-half following the convention.

Mr. Shays raised $422,145 in the fourth quarter of 2011 and $455,638 in the first quarter of 2012.

Contributions are increasing despite poll numbers that show a widening gap between Mr. Shays and his primary foe, Ms. McMahon. The gap in available campaign funds is also significant.

Ms. McMahon's campaign is largely self-funded. She has used nearly $9 million of her own money in her campaign thus far. Campaign filings show Ms. McMahon gave $660,857 to her campaign in the second quarter and loaned it $8,189,517.

Despite the uphill battle, Mr. Shays has vowed to continue his quest for the seat being vacated by independent Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Earlier last month, Mr. Shays received the endorsement — and fund-raising help — of 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 is a Fox News contributor.

Mr. Shays has also garnered the endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's presidential candidate in 2008.

Poll numbers

But poll numbers are not in Mr. Shays' favor. The most recent Quinnipiac University poll, released in June, showed Ms. McMahon leading Mr. Shays by a 59% to 30% margin in the Aug. 14 primary. This is an increase from the March 22 poll, where she had a 51% to 42% lead on the former congressman, who served from 1987 to 2008.

When it was released, Douglas Schwartz, Quinnipiac University poll director, said the increase in her lead shows a strong likelihood of a McMahon victory in the primary.

"Linda McMahon is now the clear front-runner for the GOP nod, crushing Congressmen 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."

Strongest candidate

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 Democrat Christopher Murphy, who is that party's endorsed candidate and the clear front-runner in the primary against former Democratic Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.

Mr. Rove noted Ms. McMahon's defeat two years ago to Senator 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."

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."

Name recognition

Mr. Shays has acknowledged the challenges before him. After the last Q-poll was released, he said, "There have been three polls and I'm going to take each one as they come... 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."

He also was pleased by the results of another question asked in the Quinnipiac poll, which asked if Mr. Shays "has the right kind of experience" to be a United States senator, or not. Close to 60% of the total respondents indicated that he did.

"What the Quinnipiac poll pointed out was people thought I was the most qualified," he said. "So, that was gratifying and it was gratifying that there are 40% in the state that don't know who I am. So, they've got to know who I am. The primary comes down to the votes, and I just have to get my name out," he said.

Mr. Shays believes name recognition — due to $2 million to $3 million Ms. McMahon has spent in advertising — is likely what tipped have poll numbers in Ms. McMahon's favor.

"I'm not critical of that, but that's the reason why the polls changed," he said. "I'm the better qualified candidate. I know what to do when I'm elected. I think I have a better plan for how we get out of the mess we're in."

Platform and support

In discussing his priorities for the campaign, Mr. Shays previously told The Forum's sister paper, the Greenwich Post, he would focus on an ambitious plan to balance the budget during his term.

In his plan, the retirement age will be raised by pushing back the time when people may collect Social Security, preserving it for future generations.

He has also said there are three ways to get the deficit down: spending reductions, economic growth and creating more revenue.

He referred to the Republican-led Congress working with then-Democratic President Bill Clinton, which was able to provide a balanced budget in the late 1990s, as proof it can be done.

Hersam Acorn staff members Ken Borsuk, Cristina Commendatore, and Joshua Fisher contributed to this story.