MERIDEN – In politics, sometimes life imitates ads.
Richard Blumenthal, whose new commercials for his U.S. Senate campaign feature constituents he helped in his 20 years as attorney general, was publicly thanked Thursday by a family for helping to save their car dealership.
Not that he should get used to it: In coming months, Republican foe Linda McMahon is expected to hammer at the other side of Blumenthal’s record, what conservatives say is a hyper-aggressive history of litigation that has been anti-business and anti-jobs. But Thursday was to enjoy.
“We should all be proud. We saved a great business,” said Kathy Platt, whose father-in-law, Joel Platt, is the owner of the 85-year-old dealership, Alderman Motors. “We saved jobs for the state of Connecticut.”
The ceremony organized by the Platts drew television and newspaper coverage of the family’s victory over General Motors, which rescinded last year’s termination of the Platts’ Cadillac franchise. And it reinforced a message Blumenthal is airing at a critical juncture in his campaign.
As he mingled with her customers and employees, Blumenthal’s day got better. Rasmussen Reports released a poll that replicated last week’s findings by Quinnipiac University: Blumenthal leads McMahon by a wide margin, despite a controversy over his misstatements about his military record.
The poll showed him leading, 56 percent to 33 percent. It was was conducted June 1, the day Blumenthal’s commercials went on the air.
“The current figures put the race back where it has been for most of the year, a likely Democratic victory in a challenging year for the Democratic Party,” Rasmussen said.
The Rasmussen and Quinnipiac polls each showed a reservoir of good will that Blumenthal’s supporters say is a byproduct of two decades of non-stop campaigning and aggressive constituent services, like those provided to the Platts.
On Thursday, Blumenthal joined U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, on the half-empty lot of Alderman Motors, a company getting a second chance at business.
After being denied new inventory for a year, the Platts were celebrating the imminent return of new cars to their lot. It was an unexpected confluence of commerce and politics for a family that describes itself as apolitical: Kathy and her husband, Scott, are unaffiliated voters who say they encountered Blumenthal by chance last year.
They said Blumenthal soon was writing letters to the CEO of GM, threatening legal action under a state law that provides “protection to dealers terminated without good cause.” He kept in touch, updating them on his efforts, as did Murphy and other members of the state’s congressional delegation.
It was unclear to what extent GM was moved by letters Blumenthal wrote Nov. 18 and 30 to Frederick Henderson, then the chief executive officer of GM, and on Feb. 19 to Henderson’s successor, Edward Whitacre Jr.
Blumenthal praised Alderman on Thursday as “a great source of service and quality,” words that seemed odd even to his ear.
“I don’t normally do endorsements, by the way,” Blumenthal said, smiling.
“This is a great day. We stood here some months ago drawing a line in the sand that we were going to stick up for a local business,” said Murphy, a two-term congressman.
The family business was founded as a Studebaker dealership in 1924 by Joel Platt’s father-in-law, Louis Alderman. They started selling Oldsmobiles in 1935 and Cadillacs in 1951.
GM stopped making Oldsmobiles in 2004, leaving the Platts with a dealership that sold new Cadillacs and certified used cars and provided service in a facility on South Broad Street in Meriden.
Last year, GM notified the family it was terminating its franchise as part of a national downsizing of its network of dealerships, even though Alderman sold 71 new Caddys in 2008, 20 more than the minimum required by the automaker.
Joel Platt, who took over the business in 1972 after the death of Louis Alderman, refused to close. He kept on every employee, getting by on used-car sales and service.
“We own everything,” Platt said. “I was real, real lucky we had no debt.”
They hired a nationally known franchise lawyer, and his daughter-in-law mobilized public support, reaching out to Murphy and state’s two senators, Christopher J. Dodd and Joseph I. Lieberman. Congress eventually passed a law guaranteeing arbitration rights to the terminated dealers.
GM recently notified the Platts it was reinstating their franchise without going to arbitration.
Last November, Blumenthal happened to be the speaker at the Hartford auto show.
“My husband was very apprehensive about approaching him,” Kathy Platt said, referring to an attorney general with a carefully cultivated image of protecting consumers, often at the expense of business.
On Thursday, she and Blumenthal hugged.