Richard Blumenthal


Richard Blumenthal:

Senator Christopher J. Dodd’s plan to retire from Congress sets the stage for a contentious battle for a seat that Democrats have held for 46 years, with the party hoping to hold out against determined Republican opposition.

Democrats are likely to look to Richard Blumenthal, the state’s popular attorney general, to run for Mr. Dodd’s seat.

Mr. Blumenthal, considered a golden boy of New England politics, has been patiently biding his time for a moment like this. He was expected to run for the seat vacated by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman when he ran for vice president in 2000, but Mr. Lieberman decided to remain on the Senate ballot as insurance. Mr. Blumenthal said in November that a run against Mr. Lieberman, now an independent, in 2012 “would be a challenge that I would welcome.”

While he has been waiting, Mr. Blumenthal has been re-elected five times as Connecticut’s top cop. During that tenure, he attacked Microsoft, tobacco companies and H.M.O.’s in the courtroom, and he has more recently gone after auctions of the possessions of Bernard L. Madoff and credit card rates.

While Republicans have seen an opening on Connecticut with Senator Dodd lagging in the polls, they are far from united. Linda McMahon, a political novice who is the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, is seeking the seat, as is former Representative Rob Simmons.

Democrats were giddy when Ms. McMahon first entered the race. In her former job, she actually performed in the wrestling ring as a matriarch in a dysfunctional, violent caricature of her family. But while the fights were fake, the cash she brings to the race is real. By the end of November, Ms. McMahon had already spent $5 million on advertisements, and she has said she is prepared to spend $30 million of her own money in the race.

Ms. McMahon’s campaign hopes voters will appreciate her rags-to-riches story of losing her home and emerging out of bankruptcy as she and her husband tried to start their wrestling business. She is touting her business savvy to help repair the state’s Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Mr. Simmons has attacked Ms. McMahon for her late arrival to the Republican Party, noting that she has donated large sums to Democrats in the past. Mr. Simmons has long been a favorite of the party establishment, and he has accused Ms. McMahon of trying to buy support with donations to local committees and candidates. Mr. Simmons had spent $900,000 on his campaign by the end of November.

Mr. Simmons, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, was elected to Congress in 2000, but he lost his seat when the Democrats regained the House in 2006. And this campaign has also been a frustrating one so far for Mr. Simmons. Republicans originally encouraged him to take on Mr. Dodd, but many backed off when Ms. McMahon entered the race. Polls showed Mr. Simmons ahead of Mr. Dodd among Connecticut voters.

Though he had a relatively moderate voting record in Congress, Mr. Simmons has recently made efforts to court conservatives. He said he carries a “tea bag” in his pocket, in reference to the anti-big-government activist movement, and he has apologized for supporting cap-and-trade and union-friendly legislation in the House.

In addition to Ms. McMahon’s campaign, another outsider challenge could come from Peter Schiff, a financial broker and commentator who opened his first campaign office last month in Milford, Conn. Mr. Schiff has also attempted to court voters disaffected with the Republican mainstream.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will not intervene in a primary fight. “At the end of the day, this race is a referendum on Chris Dodd,” a spokesman for the group, Brian Walsh, said last week. “We believe primary voters should decide the Republican nominee.”

Now that Mr. Dodd is no longer a factor, it remains to be seen whether Republican leaders will tolerate a potentially damaging brawl.

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