Primary-Night Surprises in Connecticut

The marquee race in Connecticut turned out as expected on Tuesday night as former WWE CEO Linda McMahon cruised to victory in the Republican Senate contest, but we saw two surprises on primary night, one big and one small. First, the big one: Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy crushed Ned Lamont in the Democratic gubernatorial race despite trailing in polls, racking up a 57% to 42% margin with most precincts reporting.

It's not entirely clear how that happened. Lamont had led Malloy consistently in polls throughout the race, but Malloy had closed down the stretch. A 41% to 24% lead in May had become a 45% to 42% lead on Monday, according to Quinnipiac.

Though Ned Lamont ran a statewide campaign just four years ago in 2006, beating out Joe Lieberman for the party's Senate nomination, Malloy basically made up the difference in name recognition: in Monday's poll 19% said they hadn't heard enough about Malloy to have an opinion; 15% said the same of Lamont. It's not as if Connecticut Democrats dislike Lamont: he enjoys a 62% favorable rating. But somehow he lost out, and he lost out big.

So the magnitude of the Stamford mayor's win seemed to come out of nowhere, even though the victory itself wasn't as shock. Malloy will face Republican Tom Foley, whom he leads by double digits in polls.

As for the much, much smaller surprise: in the Republican Senate primary, the Tea-Party-esque Peter Schiff outperformed his polling projections to take 22% in the three-way primary. Quinnipiac's latest poll had shown him at 15%, trailing Rob Simmons (28%) and McMahon (50%). Not a huge surprise, but 51% of Connecticut Republicans said they hadn't heard enough about him to form an opinion. For a Tea-Party-style candidate in a state like Connecticut, Schiff did reasonably well to break 20%, considering the relative formidability of his opponents.

Simmons, as one might expect, didn't pull it off in this race. McMahon, after spending more than $18.8 million by June 30, ran away with it as expected, sitting at 48% to Simmons's 29% with over 70% of precincts reporting. As it turns out, Simmons's decisions to "suspend" his campaign, then to air "public service" ads reminding voters he was still on the ballot even as he insisted he was not actually campaigning for the seat, per se, then to re-announce his candidacy during a debate at which the leading candidates from both parties didn't show up...was not a winning strategy in the end, and McMahon prevailed.

On to the general election, the marquee showdown: McMahon vs. Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who now leads McMahon by only 10 percentage points and had just over $2.1 million in the bank as of June 30. McMahon, meanwhile, has pledged to spend $50 million on the race. Could be a close one.