On opening day of campaign season, Blumenthal stays above the fray

NEWTOWN — To Democrats who wonder when and where Richard Blumenthal will begin to engage Linda McMahon in their U.S. Senate battle, the answer was not Monday and not here, at the state’s only Labor Day parade.

The parade is regarded as the start of the campaign season, perhaps an outdated conceit, given that McMahon already has spent a record $24 million of her own money to win the Republican nomination and score points against Blumenthal.

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Richard and Cynthia Blumenthal at Newtown parade (Mark Pazniokas)

But Blumenthal, who has been the target of a barrage of attack ads from McMahon, stuck to a message about his own 20-year record as attorney general after he walked the familiar parade route. He refused to discuss McMahon.

“I’m basically talking to the people of Connecticut about the issues that matter to them and how I will fight for them in Washington against special interests and to make sure Washington does the right thing for them,” Blumenthal said.

While Blumenthal has refrained from attacking McMahon, his campaign has quietly and insistently tried to focus the state’s political press and editorial writers on the dark side of the business that produced her fortune: World Wrestling Entertainment.

It has had successes. The recent deaths of former WWE wrestlers, such as Lance Cade, have left McMahon on the defensive at times, though not always from Democratic tactics.

McMahon’s initial response to the death of Cade, whose real name was Lance McNaught, sparked an angry reaction from McNaught’s father and his former tag-team partner, Chris Nowinski. Each called McMahon insensitive.

“I think that any father or parent that’s lost a child, clearly, has pain relative to that. I understand that,” McMahon said Monday. “So I understand the pain that he’s feeling. I do believe there is more that can be known relative to Lance. I’m letting WWE deal with those issues.”

McMahon said that voters seldom ask her about the wrestling deaths or other controversies generated by the WWE, where she was chief executive officer until beginning her campaign a year ago.

“I’m not really questioned and pushed very much on the negative aspects of, you know, a scripted soap opera,” she said, using a favorite term for WWE programming. “It’s the difference between being something that’s entertaining and scripted versus real life issues.”

But Blumenthal has not tried to capitalize on the moments when McMahon has had to defend the WWE or answer questions about the abuse of steroids or other drugs by wrestlers.

“I m not going to talk about that,” Blumenthal said Monday, after leading a company of supporters through Newtown. “That’s about all I’m going to say right now.”

McMahon has not been as reticent Blumenthal.

She flatly has accused Blumenthal of lying about his military record. In campaign mailings, McMahon has said that Blumenthal’s admitted misstatements about service in Vietnam were evidence he is not trustworthy.

On Monday, Blumenthal’s campaign manager, Mindy Myers, declined to discuss the campaign’s strategy, though Blumenthal’s advisers privately acknowledge that some Democrats have expressed frustration.

“I think Linda McMahon is running a $50 million attack campaign, and the people of Connecticut are rejecting it,” Myers said.

McMahon has said she is willing to spend as much as $50 million.

Amidst the attacks on Blumenthal, the McMahon campaign recently seemed to change emphasis and air a character testimonial from one of McMahon’s friends. Some Democratic strategists viewed the ad as evidence that McMahon sensed voter backlash.

Not so, said Ed Patru, her communication director.

“This campaign is capable of running parallel messages,” Patru said.

Patru said the campaign will continue to run what he called “contrast” ads.

“It’s difficult for the public to make a choice when the public doesn’t see what the contrast is,” Patru said.

Patru said that Blumenthal, who entered the race as the heavy favorite the same day that Dodd announced his retirement, has not adjusted to a more competitive contest.

“I think Dick Blumenthal made a calculated decision that this election ought to be a coronation, not an election,” Patru said. “His strategy, I believe, is to run out the clock. It is a flawed strategy.”

Myers said there is time for the Blumenthal campaign to draw its own contrasts with McMahon.

“There is a clear choice between Dick Blumenthal, who has fought tirelessly for the people of Connecticut, and a Linda McMahon who has put profits before people,” she said.

In Connecticut’s other marquee race, the open-seat contest for governor, Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Tom Foley seldom miss an opportunity to define the other.

Malloy casts Foley as an out-of-touch Greenwich millionaire, clueless to the concerns of the middle class. Foley portrays Malloy as beholden to public-employee unions.

These were Malloy’s first words at seeing a political reporter before the parade: “I’m just enjoying seeing Mr. Foley at a Labor Day parade. He knocks labor 364 days a year, and then he marches in their parade. I just love it.”

Blumenthal preferred to invoke Norman Rockwell imagery.

“You know, I’ve been at this parade for 20-plus years, every year,” he said. “There’s always something seasonal or spiritual about coming back to school and work after the summer and people coming out to see their kids in the bands and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Rotary.

“It’s just a celebration of community.”