With Sen. Joe Lieberman’s primary defeat at the hands of anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont last week and his decision to seek re-election as an independent, the national media have just begun to focus on the “third man” in Connecticut’s Senate race: moderate-to-conservative Alan Schlesinger, former six-term state legislator and past mayor of Derby.
No one had been paying any attention to Schlesinger, “But all of that changed on August 9—the day after Lieberman lost, which was our best media day ever,” said Schlesinger campaign manager Dick Foley, former state Republican chairman. “Alan was on Fox, MSNBC, every local television station here and six to eight radio programs.” Foley added that at least 15 reporters attended the Republican candidate’s press conference following Lieberman’s defeat.
An attorney, Schlesinger served for 12 years in the state legislature, where he was often at odds with Republican Gov.-to-be John Rowland. Schlesinger unsuccessfully challenged Rowland for a Republican congressional nomination in 1984 and in 1990 opposed Rowland ally Gary Franks for a congressional nod. (Rowland resigned the governorship last year and went to prison after pleading guilty to corruption charges.)
Elected mayor of Derby, Schlesinger took over a city whose finances were in the red and unable to pay salaries of city employees. By making cuts and instituting a tax increase without floating bonds, Schlesinger paid off the city’s debt, turned the deficit into a surplus, and eventually gave voters a rebate and lowered the taxes—“just like Ronald Reagan in his first year as governor of California,” he recalled.
Prior to last week, the most media attention Schlesinger received came following newspaper reports that he was a recreational gambler who played cards at casinos under an assumed name. Amid suggestions from some Republicans that Schlesinger resign the nomination, the candidate met with reporters and with Republican Gov. Jodi Rell and State Party Chairman George Gallo.
“Alan freely pointed out that he had not done anything wrong and was a recreational gambler and that he used an assumed name to avoid subsequent solicitations,” said Foley, noting that this is “common practice” in a state in which off-track betting and gambling at Indian reservation casinos are widespread.
Over lunch during a recent trip to Washington, Schlesinger and Foley laid out their game plan for a race they correctly assumed would include three major candidates.
As Schlesinger—like Lieberman, a supporter of the Iraq War—pointed out, “If you take away Iraq, there are no major differences between Lieberman [lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 17%] and Lamont. That leaves a lot of room for someone like me to spell out differences.” The GOP nominee noted that he “would have voted to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court—Lieberman didn’t and Lamont is critical of all the Bush judicial appointments.” Schlesinger also notes that he would have voted for the Bush tax cuts (Lieberman opposed them and Lamont has attacked them) and would vote to make the cuts permanent.
Schlesinger describes himself as “pro-choice” and does not support overturning Roe v. Wade. He does oppose partial-birth abortion, however, and supports parental consent for abortion. Lieberman voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion.
Both Foley and Schlesinger stress that the last time a Democratic senator from Connecticut sought re-election as an independent, the Republican won with a plurality. That was in 1970, when the late Sen. Thomas Dodd, father of the state’s senior Sen. Christopher Dodd, ran as an independent and the Democrats nominated Joseph Duffey, national chairman of the leftist Americans for Democratic Action. The GOP winner was Lowell Weicker, who was finally defeated by Lieberman in 1988 and elected governor as an independent two years later. This year, Weicker and longtime strategist Tom D’Amore are supporting Lamont.