HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The dust has barely settled on Connecticut's contentious 2010 U.S. Senate race to replace retiring former Sen. Chris Dodd and candidates are already back on the campaign trail, this time gearing up to replace the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2012.
Several have hired political consultants and pollsters, some with connections to past national campaigns.
Both candidates and potential candidates are making the rounds to local town committees to pitch themselves, reaching out to potential primary voters and seeking political endorsements. They're also making campaign fundraising calls — most recently, working to amass as much money as possible before latest federal fundraising deadline later this month.
Already, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who represents the 5th Congressional District, reported raising more than $1 million as of March 31. Another competitor for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, reported raising more than $500,000.
As with the 2010 Senate race, Connecticut is expected to once again have another hot contest in 2012 for an open Senate seat.
"This race is going to receive some national attention," predicted Jonathan Ducote, the campaign manager for Bysiewicz. "Connecticut is going to be looked at as a place where Democrats can help keep control of the Senate."
And as in 2010, interest in the race could also be generated by the candidates themselves. Republican Linda McMahon, a nationally known former wrestling executive, has yet to announce whether she will run for her party's nomination. She drew a lot of attention because of her business, World Wrestling Entertainment, but also for spending more than $50 million from her personal fortune in the primary and later in her general election campaign against former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who ultimately won Dodd's Senate seat.
A message was left seeking comment with McMahon. In an interview last November, she told The Associated Press that she planned to meet with her consultants and analyze her 2010 campaign. She said some post-campaign polling was likely to determine what went wrong and what could have been done differently.
When asked if she planned to run in 2012, McMahon said she was "considering a couple different directions" and would make a decision after Jan. 1. She has not returned to the WWE, where she was the CEO until 2009. Instead, she's made various public appearances, given speeches and continued with her work as a member of the Sacred Heart University Board of Trustees. McMahon has a limited liability company, McMahon Ventures, which was first organized in 2009, according to state records.
Last week, Hartford attorney Brian K. Hill, who was a write-in candidate who drew 559 votes for Senate in the 2010 race, announced his candidacy. Hill, who lives in Windsor, owns BKH & Associates, a law firm that specializes in personal injury, criminal defense and business law.
"I'm running because serious times call for a serious candidate; not a candidate of wealth or fame, but a candidate of the people," Hill said in a written statement.
Other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates include former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele.
While McMahon has said she doesn't believe she'd have to spend another $50 million if she runs again, the declared Democratic candidates appear to be taking her millions seriously and using it as an argument for their own candidacies.
State Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, who announced his candidacy May 8, said he has a compelling story to tell of being a son of Chinese immigrants with a Chinese restaurant in Hartford and who went on to become a successful lawyer and state legislator who won in a traditionally Republican district. He said it will be "a powerful counterweight" to McMahon's wealth and her story of overcoming bankruptcy to help build a successful company, saying he was "born into the cradle of entrepreneurship."
"I've had to fight for everything in my life, and that's important to people right now," he said.
Tong said he also believes that his work in the General Assembly, as co-chairman of the Banks Committee and a member of the Energy and Technology Committee, working on issues such as zone gasoline pricing and the reforms of community banks, shows he has a stronger policy and legislative record than McMahon and the declared candidates in the race.
Ducote said he believes Bysiewicz's record as secretary of the state and her name recognition with voters will help her in a potential general election match-up against McMahon and her wealth.
"Fifty million dollars is a lot to spend on any type of political race, and I think that, regardless, the fact is that people know Susan and trust Susan. And the fact that she's out there in the community working, that translates more at the end of the day more than really large sums of cash distributed all over the state," he said.
Kenny Curran, Murphy's campaign manager, said Democrats think about the possibility of their party's Senate candidate in 2012 running against a self-funded GOP candidate like McMahon. But he said the congressman, who last week announced endorsements he's received from the Connecticut Laborers Council and the United Auto Workers, Region 9A, is reminding the party faithful that he has a record of defeating Republican candidates.
In 2002, he beat a veteran GOP state representative to win his state Senate seat. In 2006, he defeated former Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson to win the 5th congressional district seat. He won re-election last year.
Curran said it will be nearly impossible for a Republican Senate candidate to win without securing the 5th District.
"We do feel," Curran said, "that we come from a position of strength, because of our strength in the 5th."