The stealth candidate stays unobtrusive

COVENTRY – While his rivals were blitzing the state, making campaign stops from Coventry to Norwalk, Rob Simmons began the last weekend before the Republican Senate primary here, talking about spies.

After delivering introductory remarks for the Nathan Hale Symposium, Simmons spent two hours listening to the remarks of three other panelists, and offered a comment during the question and answer session at the end.

“It’s not really your normal campaign event,” Simmons said afterward.

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Rob Simmons at the Nathan Hale Symposium (Nicolas Kemper)

Then again, neither has it been a normal campaign.

It’s been dubbed the “stealth campaign” by some commentators, and Simmons himself likes to use military jargon like “guerrilla operation” and “outgunned” when referring to his off-again, on-again quest for the Senate nomination. His last weekend played into the metaphor.

Unlike the front-runner, Linda McMahon, the third GOP Senate hopeful, Peter Schiff, and most of the other candidates in Tuesday’s primaries, Simmons kept a low profile.

While other politicians, including Democratic Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal, walked in Sunday’s VJ Day parade in Moosup surrounded by banner-holding, sign-waving supporters, Simmons donned his uniform and marched inconspicuously with State of Connecticut American Legion Honor Guard.

The politicking had been done earlier, Simmons said, when he and his wife walked the parade route handing out Rob Simmons potholders. He’s passed out campaign potholders since 1991, Simmons said, when he adopted the idea from Horace Seely-Brown Jr., a Republican who represented the 2nd District for six terms from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

“They have some value – people don’t just throw them away like stickers,” Simmons said.

In his remarks in Coventry Saturday, Simmons used the Nathan Hale story and more recent U.S. intelligence operations to draw comparisons to his own campaign. He described Hale as “a failure” – the Coventry native was caught and hanged on his first and only mission. But he said Hale’s service to his country was more important than the outcome of his mission.

Service is also central to the two TV ads Simmons has run since re-booting his dormant campaign three weeks ago, and dovetails with Simmons’ own extensive public service, especially his 10 years in the CIA.

“Nathan Hale gave his life, and in my way I’ve given my own life,” Simmons said.

Simmons went on to critique the American intelligence community’s emphasis on “SIGINT” and “VISINT” – intelligence based on signal intercepts and pictures–as opposed to “HUMINT” – intelligence gathered by humans. Said Simmons, “A photograph tells you what something looks like, and an intercepted message can tell you what someone is saying, but humans know what other humans are thinking, feeling, planning and doing.”

The critique resonated with his belief that – since winning the GOP’s endorsement – front-runner McMahon has inundated Connecticut’s media markets with her message and image and has rebuffed requests to debate Simmons or Schiff.

Even remarks by the first speaker, Dr. Walter Woodward, who complained about a “media-saturated world fixated on image as opposed to substance,” where he said “heroes have given away to celebrities” could just as easily been about the frustrations of the Simmons’ campaign as the dearth of modern day Nathan Hales.

“I want people to run for something instead of against something” said Simmons.