NEW HAVEN — The first debate went fine. The polls suddenly are bringing good news, not the sound of footsteps. For the first time in months, Richard Blumenthal is finding joy on the campaign trail.
Blumenthal basked in the warmth of a union crowd Wednesday night, appearing with Ted Kennedy Jr. in a church off the Green. There were no voters to convert here, just a chance to rev the Democratic base and, perhaps, the candidate.
It was the eve of his second debate with Republican Linda McMahon in the U.S. Senate race. They are to meet this morning in Norwalk before a business audience and New York media.
A few visiting national reporters were in the audience Wednesday night, gathering string for takeouts on a Senate race with a shifting story line. When some of them arrived a few days ago, McMahon was closing.
Now, some handicappers are nudging the contest toward Blumenthal. With a new poll showing Blumenthal with an 11-point lead, Rasmussen Reports has classified the race as solid Democratic. CNN and Fox each give Blumenthal double-digit leads.
McMahon’s campaign still sees the race as too close to call, pitting an outsider against a career politician in year when voter anger toward the establishment is palpable. They see the voter mood favoring McMahon.
Kennedy, his wife, Kiki, and Bob Proto, the president of Unite Here Local 35, which represents maintenance and service workers at Yale University, all reminded the audience they need to turn out for Blumenthal.
“He’s been on our side for 20 years,” Ted Kennedy Jr. said. “He’s been there for us all this time, now we’re going to be there for him.”
Kennedy said Blumenthal has perseverance.
“That is a quality that I really admired most in my father, was his willingness to keep at an issue and stay with something all the way to the end,” Kennedy said.
“Ted Kennedy is a great friend and a wonderful public servant, as is Kiki,” Blumenthal said. “And I kind of feel that the spirit of his dad is with us tonight.”
“Yes,” a woman murmured.
“I kind of feel that we are standing here representing not just ourselves and not just this generation, but our future and our children and our grandchildren,” Blumenthal said.
It was no time to go backward, to give up on health care reform, he said.
“When we think about going back, we have to say, ‘No. We are going forward,’ ” he said.
With delight, he reminded everyone of an issue that unexpectedly flummoxed McMahon last week.
“And I will tell you something,” he said, “if I’m ever asked if I will reduce the minimum wage in this country, I will say, ‘Absolutely not.’ “
The crowd roared. Blumenthal smiled.
After the brief rally, Blumenthal told reporters that he backed a key priority of labor, card check neutrality legislation that would make organizing easier for labor.
“I have supported card check neutrality. I would have to look at the specific bill,” he said. But he added he supports the concept.
Blumenthal just smiled when asked if he feels he has found his footing in the campaign. The question, of course, implies he was floundering earlier, when McMahon’s campaign ads were going unanswered.
And if Blumenthal ever is introspective about his shortcomings as a candidate, it is not something he shares with reporters.
“You know, we’ve been working hard for nine months. And we’re going to continue to work hard just like an underdog, as though we’re 10 points behind for the next four weeks,” he said.
Then it was right back to the script.
“I believe strongly the people of Connecticut want someone who will stand up strongly for them, be in their corner, fight for them against the most powerful special interests.”