Washington — Republicans in Washington are going all-out to help the Senate campaign of former Rep. Chris Shays, with a fundraiser for Shays tonight on Capitol Hill, followed by a fundraising event for him Thursday in Connecticut to be attended by Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and senior adviser to President George W. Bush.
The featured guests at tonight’s fundraiser, which is sponsored by seven former Republican lawmakers, are Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a onetime Republican standard bearer, and Sen. Roy Blunt or Missouri, also a party leader.
The push from the national Republican Party establishment is in stark contrast to Connecticut Republicans, who overwhelmingly voted at their convention last month to endorse Linda McMahon for the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman.
That push from Washington is also a concern to the McMahon campaign. Chris LaCivita, a senior consultant to the campaign, sent a memo to PACs and “interested parties” today reminding them of McMahon’s convention win. The memo was titled “DON’T waste your money on the June 4th PAC fundraiser for Congressman Christopher Shays.”
The minimum entrance fee for tonight’s event is $500 for individuals and $2,500 for PACs.
“(Linda) McMahon is perceived in Washington as a weak candidate,” said University of Connecticut political science professor Ronald Schurin.
“There’s a political calculus that Shays is more likely to take the seat than McMahon.”
That calculus, Schurin said, is based largely on McMahon’s poor performance two years ago, when she tried to win retiring Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat. Former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal handily won the seat, despite being heavily outspent by McMahon.
Plenty of Washington lobbyists are expected to attend tonight’s event, including some who organized the fundraiser, former Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana and former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.
Other organizers of the event, including former Reps. Dave Hobson of Ohio and Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin, belonged with Shays to a group of moderate Republicans that has almost disappeared as the GOP has turned to the right.
In addition to Rove other Republican lawmakers plan to travel to Connecticut later in June to help Shays raise money, said Shays campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bergen.
Erin Isaac, spokeswoman for the McMahon campaign, said her candidate “will be beholden to the people of Connecticut, not special interests or (political action committees).”
“It’s no surprise that longtime Washington politicians want Chris Shays back in the club,” Issac said. “Chris Shays believes all wisdom starts and ends in Washington. Linda believes it starts and ends here, at home with the hardworking people of Connecticut.”
Fundraising has been a problem for Shays. McMahon has outraised him more than 3-1, although much of that is McMahon’s own money. She also can continue pouring her own money into her campaign.
McMahon’s ability to fund her campaign is one reason Connecticut Republicans at the state party convention last month gave her 60 percent of their votes, while Shays received about 32 percent.
Yet the convention results don’t seem to matter in Washington, where the notion of helping a former colleague has come into play — as well as other factors.
Shays shared McCain’s ideological positions — strong on defense and moderate on domestic issues — and was an early supporter of McCain’s bid for the presidency.
Although Shays often voted opposite Blunt, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, when both served in the House, Shays supported Blunt’s failed effort to challenge Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner for speaker of the House.
Blunt, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, is now known for his amendment to block a health care law provision that would require all employers besides religiously affiliated institutions to offer free birth control in their health plans.
Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report said the Washington endorsements may help Shays raise money, but they may not be enough to convince Connecticut’s conservative primary voters to vote for Shays in August. What Shays needs, Gonzales said, is the support of lawmakers who have the backing of the tea party, like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
“If he came out and said, ‘We need Chris Shays in the Senate,’ that may have an impact,” Gonzales said.