I remember a skit from Saturday Night Live in 1991, which was a send-up of a debate between Democratic contenders for president. It was called "The Race to be the Guy who Loses to Bush," and each candidate explained why he would be a terrible nominee and why the guy next to him should be the choice, instead. It was funny at the time, because no one thought President George H. W. Bush, fresh off a victory in Kuwait, could lose.
And then, of course, he did. But the fear of a race that seemed like a guaranteed loser kept a lot of big-name Democrats out of the race, enabling a guy who had only been known on the national scene for giving a long and deadly dull speech at the 1988 convention to win the nomination and then the presidency. The lesson here is that conventional wisdom has its moments, but it can become meaningless very quickly when the situation changes. Those Democrats who saw 1992 as another loser of a race and stayed away may have missed out on their party's only chance at presidential victory between 1976 and 2008.
Is the 2006 governor's race a loser for Democrats? Susan Bysiewicz thought so. IN her statement, she said: "It has been a difficult decision, but the timing is simply not right for me." (AP)
Translation: I'm going to lose. I'd better get out before I do.
Richard Blumenthal probably thinks so, too, although it's hard to tell what's on his mind. He is very much like Mario Cuomo in 1992 and 1988: everybody pinned their hopes on him, but he wavered and vacillated until finally taking a pass. Blumenthal is staying true to form, at least so far. Couple an uncertain race with the fact that Jodi Rell has been stealing a lot of his spotlight, lately (she has visibly attached herself to both of the state's high-profile lawsuits, the NCLB case and the Bradley Air Guard case), and his chances of getting in the race seem much diminished. He may yet surprise us, but history suggests that he won't.
Is Jodi Rell, then, a foregone conclusion next year? No. Here are some bits of conventional wisdom that could be overturned by reality during 2006:
1. Jodi Rell is running
Are we sure of that? She hasn't announced, and Rell can be very unpredictable. Her health, which appears to be fine at the moment, could become a deciding factor for her. This one, however, seems pretty safe.
2. Democrats will tear each other apart in the primary
If Blumenthal stays out, and Malloy falls far enough behind in fundraising to realize that he doesn't really have a chance, there won't be a primary and John DeStefano will be the nominee.
Of course, if Blumenthal gets in, the others might decide to get out. In any case, Bysiewicz's departure makes the threat of a primary much less likely.
3. Rell's approval ratings will remain strong
They've been consistent so far. Most people have had a chance to form an opinion of her by now, and they like what they see. But public opinion is fickle. A few missteps on Rell's part, an economic downturn, national trends towards Democrats or a very good challenger could help her leave the governor's chair early.
No statewide race in Connecticut is hopeless for Democrats, not when there are so many more of them than Republicans (and Republicans are so weak, as a party). The trick is getting Democrats to actually vote for a Democrat, and to get independents to do the same. It's not easy, but it's doable.
The dynamics of this race are going to shift and change a lot before the conventions next year. Bysiewicz may find herself wishing she had stayed in just a little longer.