It’s not every poll that prompts a press conference. But Richard Blumenthal knew the importance Tuesday of showing a calm and confident face as his lead all but evaporated in a new Quinnipiac poll.
“I didn’t need a poll to tell me this was going to be a tough race. I am a fighter,” Blumenthal said, smiling as he faced reporters in his Hartford headquarters. “I have never backed down from a fight, and I’m not going to back down from this one.”
Blumenthal, 64, entered the U.S. Senate race in January with a 35-point lead over the closest Republican contender, who was then the former congressman, Rob Simmons. On Tuesday, the Democrat could feel the hot breath of Republican Linda McMahon and an angry electorate.
His lead is 49 percent to 46 percent, within the 3-point margin of error.
Blumenthal promised to intensify the contrast between his record of public service as the state’s longest-serving attorney general and McMahon’s as a businesswoman who grew rich enough off World Wrestling Entertainment to self-fund the most expensive campaign in state history.
But Blumenthal has yet to show he has the agility to sidestep what the polls here and nationally indicate is a rising wave of voter anger with the political establishment. In fact, the new Quinnipiac poll indicates that McMahon and her millions could be the least of Blumenthal’s problems.
Voters say they dislike her TV commercials and glossy mailings. Only 52 percent of her own supporters say their preference is a reflection of affection toward her. In an angry year, her supporters are as much moved by what they don’t like.
If Blumenthal has puzzled out how all of McMahon’s negatives add up to a virtual tie with him among likely voters, he is not sharing it.
“There is no single issue, probably, that has caused any result in the polls,” he said.
McMahon’s campaign invited broadcast reporters to her West Hartford headquarters for a sound bite on her closing the gap on Blumenthal.
“I have always been a proponent of smaller government, less debt, less spending and reducing taxes, getting people back to work,” said McMahon, 61, who is seeking office for the first time. “And I have that experience of creating jobs here in Connecticut.”
Blumenthal predicted he can show that McMahon’s record as the former CEO of WWE was about exploitation, whether it was the audience, wrestlers or the employees laid off from the WWE’s headquarters in Stamford.
He made eye contact and punctuated his answers with a smile from time to time. But he offered no clue as to how he intends to get on the right side of an angry electorate, no inkling that he thinks he might need — at the age of 64, after 20 years as attorney general – to suddenly seem fresh, new or different.
“People in Connecticut know me. They know my record of standing up for them and fighting for them against the most powerful special interests, and that’s the kind of United States senator I intend to be,” Blumenthal said. “And by Election Day, the contrast between us will be very, very clear.”
Voters do know him. And unlike McMahon, who is viewed favorably by 42 percent and unfavorably by 43 percent of voters, people have a favorable opinion of him. Polling shows they see him as competent, possessing the right experience and skills to be a senator. His job approval rating is a stellar 68 percent.
But a vote for Blumenthal is not a slap at the status quo or an expression of discontent with a federal government–a sentiment that is proving to be more dangerous than McMahon.
The Quinnipiac poll shows that 76 percent of voters are dissatisfied or angry with the federal government. And independent voters, by a margin of 41 percent to 33 percent, view the anti-government Tea Party favorably.
The angrier the voters, the greater their support for McMahon, according to Quinnipiac.
How can Blumenthal appeal to the angry voter? The voter who wants something new, who wants to register his dissatisfaction?
“Well, let’s talk facts,” Blumenthal said, smiling and making eye contact. “I share the anger that a lot of voters feel about Washington failing to listen and respond. The question is not who’s angry, but who can turn that anger into action that really helps people, who will fight for people who are really angry and frustrated, as I am, with Washington failing to listen and respond.”
Blumenthal said he intends to keep talking about the interests he has opposed on behalf of voters: Big tobacco, utilities, insurance companies and, at times, the federal government.
He projected confidence, but he also gave the odd sense of a man not feeling the press of time. He spoke as though he was a baseball player in spring training, gearing up for a long season, not someone five weeks away from the World Series.
“By election day we will draw the contrast between myself, my record and fighting for people and an opponent who has put profits ahead of people, who took home $46 million at the same time in the same year she was laying off 10 percent of her workforce,” Blumenthal said.
He was asked if he was doing enough.
“We will be doing more,” Blumenthal said. “No question that we will be intensifying the contrast, that we will make sure that voters in this state by election day understand they have a clear choice between someone who has stood up for them and fought for them and someone who has put profits before people.”
A TV reporter told Blumenthal that McMahon has mastered the art of the sound bite. In 10 seconds, she can explain that she is about jobs and change and less government. What does Dick Blumenthal stand for in 10 or 12 seconds?
“What I’ve stood for is that I will fight for people, put them first, stand up for their interests, and never back down from a fight,” Blumenthal said. “And people can count on me to be in their corner to side with them and to stand up for them no matter how powerful or wealthy the special interests and no matter who is in power.”
His answer took 25 seconds.