On eve of launch, bad fundraising news for Shays

Chris Shays will formally launch his U.S. Senate race Wednesday under a cloud of his own making: the former Republican congressman only raised $422,145 in the last quarter of 2011, far short of his publicly stated $1 million goal.

“I am thrilled with $400,000,” Shays said Friday, saying he had no organization or fundraising capacity until November. “So I am pretty impressed.”

His campaign reported that it raised $522,145 since creating a candidate campaign in early October, which includes a $100,000 loan from the candidate and his wife, Betsi. He has $316,000 cash on hand.


Chris Shays

The sum will do nothing to stifle questions about Shays’ ability to compete with the independently wealthy Linda McMahon, the World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder who spent $50 million of her own money in 2010 on a losing Senate race against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

But Shays said it is pointless to compare campaign bank accounts.

“You don’t think I am going to get in a spending war with McMahon, do you?” Shays said. “She literally thinks she can buy the election.”

His campaign against McMahon is expected to focus on two central points: his record of attracting independent voters, and McMahon’s failure in 2010, a Republican year in which she was facing a popular Democrat wounded by misstatements over his Vietnam-era military record.

Shays said he beat two millionaires for the GOP nomination in 1987, when he was elected to the 4th District in a special election to succeed the late Stewart McKinney. Shays is reminding reporters that he was written off that year by the Washington Post, which described him as a liberal state representative who has ”failed to make a clear impact on the race.”

Shays won and served for 21 years, surviving the region’s inexorable shift away from a GOP that came to be identified by its conservativism on social and cultural issues. He was the only Republican congressman left in New England when he lost in 2008 to Democrat Jim Himes, who benefitted from Barack Obama’s considerable coattails in Connecticut.

“If I win the primary, I have no question about the ability to raise money for the general,” Shays said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Blumenthal each spent less than $10 million in 2010 to win their elections.

Shays said Rob Simmons, the former congressman who lost the GOP nomination to McMahon in 2010, made one crucial mistake: He initially signalled that he needed to win the endorsement of the convention to go forward. He stayed in the race after McMahon took the convention, though he suspended his campaign for a time.

“Don’t go to a convention telling people you won’t run if you lose the convention,” he said.

He said his freshly printed campaign stationery carry a message printed in red: “Republican primary: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.”

He said he is in the race to stay, despite his initial fundrasing report. Shays released a summary Friday. His complete report does not have to be filed until Jan. 31.

In a bid to establish himself as the Democratic front runner, Chris Murphy was quick to report a week ago that he raised $720,000 in the last quarter of 2011, giving him a total of $3.5 million since entering the race early last year. He had $2.5 million cash on hand.

Murphy, a three-term congressman trying to be seen in Connecticut and Washington as the inevitable Democratic nominee for the open Senate seat, was the first candidate to release a fundraising summary in what could be a key quarter for contenders in both parties.

The other Democrats, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. William Tong of Stamford, have lagged behind Murphy, who represents the 5th Congressional District. They have yet to release summaries of their 4th quarter fundraising.

Shays set the bar high for himself last fall, saying he hoped to quickly raise $1 million. It was classic Shays, a candid remark bound to cause political problems. The $720,000 raised by Murphy, a sitting congressman, is the biggest quarterly number reported by any candidate in Connecticut this cycle.

He is seeking an open seat now held by his friend, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who is not running for re-election. A Republican has not been elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut since 1982, when Lowell P. Weicker Jr. won his third term. He was defeated by Lieberman in 1988

On Wednesday, Shays will launch his campaign at noon in the Old State House in downtown Hartford, the venue chosen by Ned Lamont to begin his Democratic challenge of Lieberman in 2006.

“I am one happy candidate,” Shays said. “I have an opportunity of a lifetime. I am going to be asking people to join a revolution to get our country’s financial house in order and to get our fellow Americans back to work.”

The original version of this story incorrectly said that Shays would make his announcement Tuesday.