Susan Bysiewicz today declared herself a candidate for U.S. Senate, trying to put the disasters of 2010 behind her by getting an early jump on 2012, when U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman is up for re-election.
Bysiewicz, 49, a Democrat whose career derailed last year after her abrupt and ill-fated switch from an exploratory campaign for governor to a run for attorney general, announced her plans in an email to reporters and discussed them in a telephone interview. The Mirror reported her intentions earlier today.
Her first challenge will be to convince Democratic activists she was not permanently damaged last year by a string of missteps, beginning when she exited the governor’s race in January as the early front-runner, tempted by a seemingly easier campaign for attorney general.
Instead, Bysiewicz was knocked from the race in stunning fashion: Just days before the Democratic nominating convention, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that she lacked the requisite experience to be attorney general.
A friend briefed on her Senate plans said Monday night that Bysiewicz, who won statewide races for secretary of the state in 1998, 2002 and 2006, intends to circulate a pollster’s memorandum detailing findings that she remains well-known and popular.
In a telephone interview this morning, Bysiewicz said the poll shows her trials of the past year have not harmed her among the broader public.
“The poll shows that despite what political insiders might think, the poll shows that I would be the strongest candidate in a Democratic primary and also in the general election,” Bysiewicz said.
Bysiewicz said she will be reminding activists of her previous statewide victories and that she was the top Democratic vote-getter in 2006.
“I think I have a very strong chance to win. I have been a candidate for statewide office four times, once in a primary and in three statewide general elections,” Bysiewicz said. “And we have done well every time I’ve been allowed to run.”
She said she will release the poll, which shows her winning various matchups in a Democratic primary and general election.
Bysiewicz, the mother of three teenagers, said one focus of her campaign will be how to increase opportunities for young people. The state’s population is older than the national average.
“We need a Senator who is 100% focused on helping our state, and Senator Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut,” Bysiewicz said in her email. “I will only work for the people of Connecticut so we can create jobs that keep our children and grandchildren here in Connecticut for generations to come.”
Her announcement is likely to nudge U.S. Reps. Chris Murphy and Joe Courtney, who also are considering a run for the Democratic nomination for Senate, toward a decision. Lieberman, who was re-elected as an independent in 2006, has not said if he will seek a fifth term in 2012.
But even her launch comes after a stumble. Last week, Bysiewicz appeared caught off guard when asked Friday by The Mirror if she was about to create an exploratory committee for U.S. Senate.
“I don’t have any immediate plans to do anything,” she said.
Now, just four days later, Bysiewicz is announcing the filing of papers with the Federal Election Commission to create a candidate committee.
“I am running for the U.S. Senate for the same reason I first entered public service: because I want this state to be a better place for my children and yours,” Bysiewicz said in her emailed announcement. “As I travel across this state listening to the people of Connecticut, I hear over and over that too many of our children have to leave our state because there aren’t enough opportunities here for them.”
Her decision turns the campaign for U.S. Senate into a marathon of nearly two years, giving the state just a two-month break since the 2010 race to succeed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, which was the state’s most expensive.
Linda McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive who spent $50 million in an unsuccessful contest with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for Dodd’s seat, already has said she may run in 2012.
Bysiewicz’ first credibility threshold is likely to be fundraising. An aggressive and successful fundraiser as a statewide officeholder, will she get a similar response from donors as an out-of-office politician attempting a comeback?
In addition to her fumbled runs for office, Bysiewicz faced other trials last year.
If being declared unqualified by the state’s highest court was not bad enough, Bysiewicz also was found to have misused a state database for political purposes.
She also came under fire in the last weeks of her tenure as secretary of the state.
First, she had to explain why the state’s largest city, Bridgeport, ran out of ballots on election day, even though the responsibility rested with the city’s registrars. Then, Republicans accused her of prematurely calling the governor’s race for the Democrat, Dannel P. Malloy.
Republican State Chairman Chris Healy, who filed the appeal that forced the Supreme Court review of Bysiewicz’s qualifications for attorney general, said Bysiewicz cannot live outside the spotlight.
“In 2010, Susan Bysiewicz showed Connecticut voters it’s all about Susan,” Healy said. “You have to give Ms. Bysiewicz credit, she can take a punch and doesn’t dwell on disappointments. Voters will however, will see this for what it is – another career politico in search of greater glory.”
Until last year, her ambition was thought to be winning the office of governor, following her hero, another former secretary of the state, Ella T. Grasso.
Bysiewicz began raising money soon after her re-election in 2002 for a possible gubernatorial run in 2006. But facing a strong opponent in Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who then had the highest job-approval ratings in the nation, Bysiewicz instead ran for re-election.
In 2010, the landscape was more favorable. Rell was not running, and Bysiewicz had the highest name recognition among the likely Democratic contenders. Early polling showed her as the front-runner for governor.
But she was caught up in the chain reaction caused by Dodd’s decision in early January not to seek a sixth term.
Blumenthal immediately declared for U.S. Senate, ending his 20-year tenure as attorney general.
Bysiewicz chose to drop her run for governor–a job that would entail dealing with a massive budget deficit–and instead run for attorney general, an office the Lieberman and Blumenthal showed is a reliable path to political popularity.
She did nothing to dissuade speculation that she saw the attorney general’s office as a stepping stone to the U.S. Senate, refusing to pledge to serve even one full term as A.G. But her campaign ended quickly.
In February, Bysiewicz felt forced to seek an advisory opinion from a Superior Court judge after questions about whether she met the statutory requirement of 10 years of “active practice” as a lawyer in Connecticut. Unless her 11 years as secretary of the state were counted, she fell short.
A Superior Court judge ruled in her favor, but the Republican Party appealed.
Just days before the Democratic nominating convention in May, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that being secretary of the state did not constitute the practice of law.
Bysiewicz withdrew from the race, but not from politics. She continued to attend rallies, leaving little doubt she would run again in 2012.