Source says Simmons told staff he is ending campaign

A Republican source says Rob Simmons told his staff Monday he will end his campaign for U.S. Senate at a press conference today in New London.

On Monday night, Simmons called a press conference for 9 a.m. in New London to make an “announcement on the future of the campaign for U.S. Senate,” immediately prompting speculation he was dropping out. UPDATE: Simmons ends campaign, stays on ballot.

Simmons has not notified Republican officials or the GOP’s endorsed candidate, Linda McMahon, of his intentions. He did not answer his cell phone Monday night.

“He keeps his own counsel these days,” a former GOP official said.

But a source who declined to be identified said that Simmons’ staff was told the campaign was ending, bowing to the difficulties of fighting the best-financed candidate in Connecticut history: McMahon, a co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment who is seeking office for the first time.

McMahon, who had contributed $16 million to her campaign by May 1, is on pace to break all campaign spending records in the state by the Fourth of July. She says she has budgeted $50 million of her personal fortune in an effort to become the first Connecticut Republican to win a Senate race since Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in 1982.

“I’m not a multi-millionaire,” Simmons said in an interview before the Republican State Convention. “I own my home. I’ve got some property in Vermont that has some value. My wife and I are what you might call a middle-class family, and we have chosen to enter politics at this stage in our lives and have been successful without being multi-millionaires.”

Simmons, a former three-term congressman, decorated Vietnam veteran and CIA agent, hoped that delegates to the convention last weekend would judge him the best opponent to face Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who has been on the defensive for the past week over his misrepresentation of his military record.

“The Blumenthal issue has made it clear to them he is beatable on the merits, and that I’m the guy to do it,” he said. After his endorsement by James Schlesinger, the former CIA director and defense secretary, he said, “You can’t buy that. You have to earn it.”

He repeatedly warned Republicans that McMahon would face her own character issues over the WWE’s racy entertainment and its wrestlers use of steroids. A memo written by McMahon indicates she told an employee to warn a doctor he was under investigation for supplying steroids.

“These are serious times. They call for serious leadership,” Simmons said during a televised debate. “The character of our Republican Party will be conveyed by the nominee we select.”

His sharp rhetoric alarmed some supporters, including former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who praised Simmons as being most responsible for saving the submarine base in Groton from a round of base closings.

But Shays pointedly said a week ago, “If I were advising Rob, I’d say cool it.”

The delegates opted over the weekend for two wealthy residents of Greenwich with no elective experience: McMahon for U.S. Senate and Tom Foley for governor.

Simmons unequivocally promised to primary Friday night after losing the convention endorsement to McMahon, 737 to 632. He already has qualified for the primary ballot by winning more than 15 percent of the convention vote.

Simmons, 67, was trying for a comeback after losing his 2nd District seat by just 83 votes to Democrat Joseph Courtney in 2006. In the weeks leading up to the convention, Simmons resisted calls to seek his old seat in what is trending as a good year for Republicans.

By ending his campaign for the Republican nomination, Simmons’ would end an intra-party fight over McMahon’s suitability to face Blumenthal in the general election. Peter Schiff, an investment adviser and cable-television pundit on the economy, won only 44 votes at the convention, too few to force a primary.

Schiff said he was considering a petition drive to qualify for the primary ballot, but he may be dissuaded by a head-to-head fight with McMahon and her resources. He said during the convention he preferred a three-way primary.