Connecticut ranks No. 1 in income per capita in the United States, according to a 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that if you we’re taking a stroll in New Britain, Conn., last Sunday on the aptly named Main Street.
“I hate all politicians,” said Bai Musduba, who owns Peppino’s Pizza, a local pizza place in this well-worn town. “They just worry about themselves, just like anyone else.”
No doubt Musduba, a small business owner, speaks for many Connecticut voters, who are being asked Tuesday to choose between two of the most hated groups in America right now: career politicians and wealthy CEOs. The race pits Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, against former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, a Republican. Both are seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Chris Dodd.
It’s safe to say Musduba didn’t know or care that Blumenthal had been just down the street, at a Democratic rally at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, earlier that day.
If the latest polls are accurate, Blumenthal appears to be bucking the national trend against incumbents and establishment figures. He carried a nine-point lead into election day. This despite being a familiar face in Connecticut politics for 20 years -- he's been the state’s attorney general since 1991 -- and his generally liberal stands on taxes and regulation.
In fact, his familiarity among voters seems to be helping him.
“He’s a strong leader and a man of his word,” said Rita Riccardi, who works at Connecticut College. “I have faith he will win.”
The former attorney general, who was joined by Ted Kennedy Jr., had Democratic supporters showing up by the hundreds on Sunday for a pasta and chicken lunch.
“Are we ready to win?” said Blumenthal. “Yeah!” the crowd roared. He repeated himself two more times, and each time, the audience's response got louder.
Among those in attendance, there was a sense of deep-seated devotion. Alphina Gary, a senior citizen from New Britain, said she has been watching his tenure as attorney general and “just loves him.” And while she couldn’t name any specific issues she commends Blumenthal for, she said: “He listens to things, and the feelings I have toward him toward him grow more and more each time I hear him speak.”
Blumenthal certainly hasn't been sitting on his hands during the last 20 years in public office. He has taken on the tobacco companies for concealing health risks as part of a class-action suit that will reportedly dole out $3.6 billion to Connecticut over time, and he recently got California-based pharmaceutical company McKesson to pay over $15 million to settle a suit charging it with deceptive practices, according to news reports.
If elected, Blumenthal said, he plans to help revive the state's economy with an initiative he calls “Made in Connecticut,” which would end tax breaks for big companies that make it profitable for them to go overseas. Connecticut currently has an unemployment rate of 9.1%.
On his Web site, Blumenthal notes he took on aircraft manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, one of largest employers in the state, when the company tried to move jobs out of state.
All that experience and history may give Blumenthal the edge on Tuesday.
“I think he knows more about the state than anyone,” said J.W. Lausch, a registered Republican who attended Sunday's event.
“Money talks in the business world," said Lausch, referring to McMahon, who has spent more than $40 million on her campaign, the highest expenditure in the history of Senate races in Connecticut. "But having business expertise doesn’t transfer into political prowess.”
McMahon has charged that Blumenthal is “anti-business” and wants to grow government, not the economy. But Sharon Rodrigue, another New Britain resident, said she doesn’t agree. “It’s ridiculous. He just wants to be fair and wants [enough] oversight and accountability,” she said.
Accountability is an important theme of the campaign. Ty Matsdorf, spokesman for the campaign, said Blumenthal opposed the Wall Street bailout and backed financial reform. “He thought they needed to be accountable,” Matsdorf said.
“The little man never gets ahead,” explained Joan Calvo, another supporter at Sunday’s event. “It’s always the big guy.” She is hoping Blumenthal will change that.
Blumenthal has positioned himself as a champion of the middle class and of those with less. Similar to President Obama's position, he wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. For individuals making $200,000 or more, the tax cuts would not be extended. “You’ve got to battle the deficit,” explained Matsdorf.
And if he does beat McMahon, it will be a bittersweet triumph for a career politician because of the beating his reputation has taken.
Among the major missteps of his campaign, perhaps the most damaging was his penchant for suggesting he served in Vietnam during that conflict. In fact, Blumenthal, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corp. Reserves, never set foot in Vietnam. He has since apologized and said he misspoke.
In addition, he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he never took political action money when, in fact, he had taken more than $220,000 in PAC money, according to the Federal Election Commission website. His aides said his comments applied exclusively to his previous candidacies for attorney general.
And he had only a fumbling answer during a debate when McMahon, the billion-dollar entrepreneur positioning herself as the candidate with real-world experience, asked simply: “How do you create a job?” Blumenthal’s answer -- which began, “A job can be created in a variety of ways by a variety of people"-- was lackluster at best.
Still his base believes that he will create jobs, despite Connecticut's fiscal mess with a reported $3.26 billion budget deficit.
"My opponent has a lot more money, but I’ve got something money can’t buy – I’ve got you,” Blumenthal told the rally at the VFW hall.