By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Large amounts of money and manpower are being expended in the final days of Connecticut’s close U.S. Senate race, a contest that has attracted national attention because the outcome could affect control of the Senate.
Over the past week, hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside groups, ranging from super PACs to the National Rifle Association, have poured into the state. That money is being spent on last-minute TV and radio ads, printed mailers, paid door-to-door canvassing and phone-banking that supports or opposes Republican Linda McMahon and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.
A total of more than $10 million worth of independent expenditures had been spent on Connecticut’s Senate race as of Friday. That is more than any other Senate race in New England, or in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the Federal Election Commission.
“It’s a lot of money in the Northeast,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, a senior vice president at Common Cause Buy Here Pay Here Company and also a resident of Connecticut who has watched the onslaught of ads. She attributes the large level of spending to the fact McMahon has spent tens of millions of her own money on the race, prompting the national Democrats, for example, to spend about $3.7 million on ads attacking McMahon. But Hobert Flynn notes that some groups, like the NRA and a tea party activist super PAC, are paying for anti-Murphy mailers or ads.
“We always see more independent expenditures in open seats. These are places where races are up for grabs, even in a state that traditionally tends to vote more Democratic,” Hobert Flynn said. “I think that both political parties and outside interests believe there’s more opportunity to have an impact with high-level spending to win an open seat race.”
Meanwhile, both McMahon and Murphy are adding their own advertising to the mix as they make their closing arguments about why they should be the one to fill the seat that’s being vacated by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent. And they’re also mobilizing their supporters, holding rallies over the weekend and Monday, hoping to energize key voting groups such as women, seniors and urban residents.
The massive effort comes after both candidates put their campaigns on hold for several days following Superstorm Sandy. A Quinnipiac University Poll taken before the storm hit showed Murphy with a lead of six percentage points. But McMahon’s campaign has pointed to other polling that shows the race could be closer.
“We have spent the last year putting our ground game together, with our 13 field offices,” McMahon said. “It will be fully launched and that’s why you spend so much time and preparation, because you’re ready to execute. And we’ll be executing, and hopefully we’re going to be turning out the vote.”
As of late October, McMahon had spent $42.6 million of her own money on the race, nearly matching the $50 million she spent on her failed 2010 Senate race. Some of that money has been paid for people _ in some cases $10 an hour _ to canvass Connecticut neighborhoods. Her campaign, which has not provided a total figure on spending for such efforts, planned to knock on 400,000 doors and make 600,000 phone calls over the weekend.
Murphy’s campaign is getting help from labor unions and the Working Families Party, which cross-endorsed his candidacy, to get out the vote.
He has also gotten a boost from some well-known supporters who’ve accompanied him on the campaign trail, including Randi Weingarten, the president of the National American Federation of Teachers or AFT, women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke, and Ted Kennedy Jr., a Branford resident and son of the late Massachusetts senator.
Kennedy said he believes as voters look more closely at McMahon, the more they’ll break for Murphy.
“She’s tried to make herself over as this grandmotherly figure, but I’m not sure people are really buying that,” Kennedy said, during a stop in New London. “The more people get to know Chris, the more that they realize that really he’s on their side. He is really standing up for middle-class Americans.”
That same message is hit home in a new TV ad featuring President Barack Obama, which urges voters to support the 5th District congressman, saying Murphy “has a jobs plan that puts the middle class first.” A national Democratic Party official confirmed that it’s the first time the president has appeared in an ad making a direct appeal on behalf of a Democratic Senate candidate during this election cycle.
McMahon said she plans to remind voters during the final days of the campaign of her record as a job-creator, while CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, now WWE. During a speech to a business group in Hartford on Friday, McMahon ticked off the key points of her jobs plan, the hallmark of her 2012 campaign, which includes cuts in corporate and middle class tax rates. And on Monday, she planned an event in Southington with her “Job Creators for Linda” supporters at the same manufacturing company where she announced her candidacy last year.
“Our campaign has focused on what I think is the primary issue in this race, which is jobs and the economy,” she said. “When I got into the race first in 2009, it was the jobs and the economy. This is 2012, it’s still jobs and the economy, because neither has improved.”
Susan Haigh can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SusanHaighAP
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)