Blumenthal-Carter contest a quiet race in a stormy election year

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and State Rep. Dan Carter.

CTMirror File Photo

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and State Rep. Dan Carter.

Washington – While the odds that Sen. Richard Blumenthal will be re-elected are among the highest in this year’s U.S. Senate races, he’s also under constant fire from a Republican opponent, state Rep. Dan Carter, who has laid siege to the popular Democrat.

At least once a week, the Carter campaign releases blast e-mailed press releases condemning Blumenthal for a wide range of things, including voting for an accord with Iran over its nuclear program and sponsoring legislation that would revoke the immunity from lawsuits Congress has granted to gun manufacturers.

Carter likes a description of his effort to whittle away at Blumenthal’s popularity as a “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” campaign.

“We’ve been taking Blumenthal on, piece by piece,” Carter, 49, said.

He said the popular incumbent has no right to “a sense of entitlement” to the Senate seat.

But Carter’s is the classic political underdog’s uphill battle.

Few Connecticut politicians have as much name recognition as Blumenthal, who served in both houses of the General Assembly but really garnered a lot of attention during the 20 years he served as a crusading state attorney general.

Meanwhile, this is Carter’s first attempt at a statewide seat.

Ron Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said he recently asked his “bright, well-informed” class of 45 students to name the Republican candidate for Senate. Not one of them could.

“The Carter campaign is invisible,” he said. “That’s a problem for democracy and not good for the nation and the state,” because the public deserves a high-profile debate on the issues.

There are several reasons the Connecticut Senate race is not like those in nearby New Hampshire or Pennsylvania, where incumbents are fighting for their political lives, tens of millions of dollars are being spent on advertising and a new poll comes out nearly every day.

One reason is that Connecticut’s electorate leans Democratic.

Schurin said other factors have come into play.

One is that state Republicans have lately recruited “millionaire candidates” like Tom Foley and Linda McMahon, who spent $50 million of her own money on two failed Senate runs.

“Because of that, they are out of practice in campaign fundraising,” Schurin said.

According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, Blumenthal had raised more than $7 million as of Sept. 30. Carter ‘s most recent reports were not available, but as of  June 30, he had raised only about $106,000.

A greater problem for Carter, Schurin said, is the shrinking traditional media.

“With the decline of the traditional press, nobody is covering the Carter campaign,” he said.

Despite his advantages, Blumenthal  says he does not take any race for granted.

“I always work as if I’m 15 points behind,” he said.

A mainstream Republican 

Carter is pointed and relentless in his attacks on Blumenthal, trying to tie him to Connecticut’s sputtering economy and to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has dismal approval ratings.

Carter’s platform reflects mainstream Republican positions. Like most congressional Republicans, Carter wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a program that would continue to mandate coverage for pre-existing conditions and allow young adults to stay on their parent’s health care plans – two very popular aspects of Obamacare.

Carter supports greater local control of schools, “fairer” taxes and fewer regulations. He is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and was the only legislator representing Newtown to vote against the gun law passed in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, saying the bill “overreached.”

Yet Carter is proud he’s the “third-most independent voter in the state assembly.”

Carter endorsed GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and says he’ll “probably” vote for him.

“But we can all change our minds,” he said.

An Air Force veteran who flew missions in Operation Desert Storm, Carter was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 2010 and is serving his third term representing portions of Bethel, Danbury and Redding as well as Newtown.

Carter entered the race relatively late, in April, after CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow decided not to run and after Republican businessman August Wolf began to have trouble in his campaign, which was plagued by staff turmoil. Carter won the nomination at the state GOP convention, and Wolf failed to garner enough signatures to become a petitioning candidate.

While there will be a candidate debate at 11 a.m. Sunday morning on WFSB’s “Face the State,” Blumenthal has largely ignored his opponent.

“That’s not frustrating for me, but it does frustrate a lot of others who want answers (from Blumenthal),” Carter said.

An ad blitz 

Blumenthal has spent more than $2.7 million defending his seat, mostly in television ads that will run more than 250 times before the Nov. 8 election.

His first ad, launched in July, featured the widow of a Connecticut veteran who committed suicide after suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the ad, she praises Blumenthal’s work on a bill aimed at preventing veteran suicides.

The campaign followed up with an ad that highlights Blumenthal’s fight against General Motors over the automaker’s faulty ignition switches, which have been linked to 100 deaths.

Another ad focused on Blumenthal’s support of Planned Parenthood and women’s health issues.

“Dick Blumenthal fights for us every time,” one woman after another says.

There’s also an ad that says the senator is taking on the rising cost of prescription drugs, including EpiPen, and another that talks about the work he’s done to secure jobs at Electric Boat, which builds submarines in Groton.

Those ads remind voters that Blumenthal is on the ballot in this tumultuous election year and are central to his campaign strategy.

Rather than engaging Carter, Blumenthal is running on his accomplishments and fights on behalf of consumers.

“Too often today, powerful special interests and corporations get their way,” Blumenthal said.  “My job has always been to stand up to special interests and make a difference for those who are getting ripped off.”

Blumenthal’s focus on consumer issues is an outgrowth of his years as Connecticut’s attorney general, where he took on powerful interests.

But to Carter, its an anti-business agenda that hurts Connecticut’s business climate.

Blumenthal sponsors and co-sponsors more bill than almost any other senator.

Besides his Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which President Obama signed into law in February of last year, Blumenthal has pressed for more rail safety and a number of consumer issues.

But being in the minority, it was difficult for him to win on much of his agenda.

That could change.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s Senate expert, Jennifer Duffy, said Blumenthal has one of the safest seats in this political season.

But there are about eight Senate races that are very competitive and whose results could tip control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democratic Party.

If that were to happen, Blumenthal would be in line for a chairmanship, that of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and may be promoted to chair a subcommittee on the powerful and wide-ranging Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

And if the Senate flips, New York Sen. Charles Schumer would be the next Senate majority leader, setting the agenda for the chamber.

Schumer has worked with Blumenthal on a number of issues, including rail safety, a bill that would give Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, another that would help victims recover art that was stolen by the Nazis and a number of measures aimed at protecting Long Island Sound.

More recently, both senators, loyal Democrats, led an effort to pass a bill, then override Obama’s veto of it, that would open the door to lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for “harboring terrorists.”

To help Democrats win the Senate, Blumenthal has donated to Democrats running in this year’s hot Senate races and has urged his donors to contribute to them, too. The Trump factor may make a difference in some of those races.

“If the election were held today, we could take back the Senate,” Blumenthal  said. “But a lot could happen in two and a half weeks.”

It’s hard to say how the presidential election will effect Connecticut’s Senate race.

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, predicted Blumenthal will win more votes than Hillary Clinton.

“She’ll be riding on his coattails,” he said.

Art Paulson, professor emeritus of political science at Southern Connecticut State University, said Blumenthal won 55 percent of the vote in a tough race against McMahon when he first ran for his seat in 2010. That was considered a “Republican year,” because the GOP won control of the U.S. House of Representatives and made huge gains in state legislatures.

“This year is a mildly Democratic year, and Blumenthal will do much better than 55 percent,” Paulson predicted.

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