On a stormy day in downtown Hartford, candidates for Connecticut’s U.S. Senate and congressional races packed into the AFL-CIO’s convention in hopes of scoring an endorsement from the labor group less than two months before the state’s primary election.
The day began with speeches from Democratic Senate hopeful and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and sitting Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat (who is not up for re-election this year). Bysiewicz, along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and Republicans Linda McMahon and Chris Shays, is vying to win the seat being vacated by the retiring Joe Lieberman.
Shays is expected to address the AFL-CIO tomorrow morning, shortly before the labor group is to announce its official endorsements.
In her address, McMahon hit most of the notes in her usual stump speech, but seemed to play up points in her life where she struggled, including the bankruptcy of her first business and stress of being a young mother, while emphasizing her usual focus on improving the economy.
“It may be surprising to some of you that I’m here today. We obviously don’t agree on all things,” said McMahon, who is from Greenwich. “But I think what we can agree on, absolutely hands down, is the need to put our people back to work in our state and in our country and get our economy on sound footing.”
Speaking to reporters after she came off the stage, McMahon said little about which specific union issues she would support.
“I’m going to vote on the issues and I’m going to vote on the issues that I think are right to put our country forward,” she said. “Whether they’re union, non-union issues, whatever those issues are, I’ll view them individually and independently and make, I think, the best judgement that I can at the time.”
Murphy received a markedly more enthusiastic reception from the AFL-CIO crowd as he stepped onto the stage grinning broadly.
“There are a lot of friends in this room,” said the Democrat from Cheshire. “There are are a lot of people who have been with me through a lot of different fires.”
Murphy, a congressman who currently represents Connecticut’s Fifth District, appeared to be looking beyond the Democratic primary and already preparing for a general election battle against McMahon.
“I feel like I’m running two campaigns at the same time,” Murphy said after addressing the convention audience.
He hardly mentioned Bysiewicz either in front of the crowd or when speaking to reporters, instead laying heavily into McMahon about how much money she plans to spend on her Senate campaign as well as money spent by outside groups, such as SuperPACs.
“This is a right-wing cabal with money men who are pledged to spend $1 billion in this election.” Murphy said. “Here’s what I want to say to you today, but what I really want to say to them, to Karl Rove and to Grover Norquist and to the Koch brothers and to Linda McMahon and to any other SuperPAC or any other billionaire who thinks that they can buy this election out from under us: Hell no.”
All three Democratic candidates in Connecticut’s heated Fifth District congressional race also took the stage in an afternoon panel that saw no Republicans present.
An AFL-CIO official said that none of the Republican campaigns in the Fifth District race had accepted invitations to address the convention. Staffers from three of the four campaigns said in e-mails that their candidates had a prior engagements to attend.
At Monday’s convention, House Speaker Chris Donovan, of Meriden, repeated a theme of “fairness, dignity and respect,” saying that the current Congress ignores the opinions of voters on issues ranging for workers’ rights to women’s health care.
“The average person doesn’t feel that their country is responding to them,” Donovan said. “I will fight with you to make sure every citizen in our country is treated with fairness, dignity and respect.”
Donovan did not address the ongoing federal investigation into his campaign’s finances, nor did he say anything about a report the campaign had requested from attorney Stan Twardy on the campaign finance practices. Donovan’s campaign finance director, 33-year-old Robert Braddock Jr., was arrested by federal agents last month and he fired several members of his staff, including his campaign manager.
But the ongoing probe appeared to affect Donovan little with the audience at Monday’s convention. Donovan, who worked for a union representing community college workers before becoming House Speaker, drew standing applause from parts of the crowd while other candidates received polite applause.
Former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, an attorney from Cheshire, said she would work to shield Medicare and Social Security from cuts in future budgets, instead saying Congress needs to think “creatively” about how to solve different problems facing the nation.
“Everyone here has earned that,” Esty said of the two social service programs.
Dan Roberti, of Kent, said Congress needs to craft campaign finance legislation that reinstates limits undone by the Citizens’ United court decision. Roberti said the ruling has allowed wealthy contributors to unfairly influence elections, including the vote in November.
“We are in the fight of our lives right now,” Roberti said. “Be careful who you choose to endorse.”
If the Democrats were to lose the Fifth District race and Congressional Democrats lose out on their majority in the U.S. House, Roberti said, “it’s on our heads.”