Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) insists he is not campaigning for a Senate seat, except for the TV ads he’s running and the occasional campaign appearances he’s making.
Simmons, who suspended his primary campaign in May after he didn’t capture the Republican Party’s endorsement at the state convention, is launching a $350,000 media buy for an ad reminding voters he’s still on the Aug. 10 ballot.
In an interview with The Hill, Simmons said he thinks of the ads more as “public service announcements.”
In practically the same breath that Simmons claims the ad is simply out of respect for those who supported him at the state convention, he mentions polling that shows him still competitive with state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) in a general election, noting that he remains competitive even though his campaign went dark for the past two months.
Asked why he doesn’t officially jump back into the primary against former WWE CEO Linda McMahon (R) if he thinks he’s the stronger candidate against Blumenthal, Simmons said it’s “because that doesn’t seem to fit based on what I’ve said and who I am.”
He was referring to his promise to bow out of the primary if he didn’t win the party’s endorsement at the state convention. The ad won’t start running until the weekend, but in the spot Simmons tells voters “it’s important to vote with your heart and your head.”
He continues, “In the Republican primary on Aug. 10, you do have a choice. I’m Rob Simmons, I’m still on the ballot and I approved this message.”
The ad is set to run statewide on broadcast and cable, remaining up until the primary, according to a Simmons spokesman.
The McMahon campaign fired back quickly Wednesday with a statement slamming Simmons.
“Over the past two months, he’s been engaged in a very strange and erratic effort to reconcile his promise not to run with his desire to return to Washington,” said McMahon spokesman Ed Patru. “Today, we are as confused as everyone else.”
After he suspended his campaign, a number of Simmons backers — including a couple of elected officials and state committee members — said publicly they still intended to vote for him over McMahon in the primary and, despite her deep pockets, expressed concern over her general-election prospects.
McMahon has had to endure a spate of negative press over her time as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Since May, Simmons has made a number of public statements indicating a desire to return to the race, and state Republican leaders have largely refrained from weighing in. The former CIA operative and Vietnam veteran is widely respected and well-liked within the state’s GOP establishment.
“Rob Simmons is entitled to present himself and campaign any way he wishes,” said state Republican Chairman Chris Healy. “The focus for us is electing a Republican senator and defeating Dick Blumenthal. We’re well on our way to accomplishing that task.”
But, behind the scenes, some Republicans are starting to tire of the back-and-forth. One state Republican described Simmons’s actions as “erratic at best.” Another said while he holds great respect for Simmons, “politics is an active process, not a passive-aggressive process.”
Mark Pappa, a member of the state’s GOP Central Committee who backed Simmons at the convention, said he thinks it’s time to move the focus to McMahon.
“There’s still a tremendous amount of support for Simmons among those who voted for him at the convention,” said Pappa. “But I’m voting for McMahon. She’s the one who’s passionate about winning this race right now.”
Other Simmons backers have called on him publicly to get back in the primary, including Norwich Republican Chairman Ray Dussault.
The notion that Simmons has even come close to fully restarting his campaign is premature. He would have to run a statewide campaign against a billionaire opponent and he has just two full-time staffers, no real fundraising operation and little discernible campaign infrastructure.
Still, the expectations are high for McMahon in the August primary, and Simmons knows it. Given the more than $20 million she has already spent on her bid and the fact she hasn’t had to endure much of an active primary campaign since May, it would be an embarrassment for McMahon to win the GOP primary any other way than convincingly.
Forcing her to look back over her shoulder now, when the campaign would like to be focusing its fire on Blumenthal, is a distraction McMahon doesn’t need — particularly since polls have consistently shown her down double digits to the presumed Democratic nominee.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll has Blumenthal up 17 points in a general-election match-up with McMahon. The same poll had McMahon up 52 percent to 25 over Simmons in the primary. Businessman Peter Schiff, who stayed in the primary after McMahon won the party endorsement at the state convention, polled third with 13 percent of the vote.
Thus far, there’s no sign McMahon is paying much attention to Simmons.
Democrats believe that Simmons has kept running, despite his official withdrawal from the race.
“We’ve been hearing for weeks that he’s had a shadow campaign going,” a Connecticut-based Democratic strategist said.
As for whether Simmons will back McMahon after the primary, “I want a Republican to win,” he said.
Pressed on whether he wanted that Republican, Simmons repeated, “I want a Republican to win.”
Sean J. Miller contributed to this article.