Courtney sought to tie Simmons to President Bush who has a low approval rating in eastern Connecticut.
"If you're satisfied with the direction that Rob Simmons and George Bush have taken this country over the last six years I'm probably not your candidate," he said. "If you believe as I do that we can move in a new and better direction then that change can begin right here at home and it begins with changing the congressman from this district."
Simmons shot back by saying his growing seniority in the House helps the congressional district, specifically efforts to increase military spending to benefit the submarine base in Groton.
"Now we're fighting for two Virginia class submarines. My committee in the Congress has authorized $400 million for this. Could you do this Joe?" he asked Courtney. "And if Joe goes to Congress next year do you think the Bush administration is going to help him with anything?"(AP)
Other, less fortunate candidates have tried to tie Rob Simmons to George W. Bush. Jim Sullivan had an ad where Simmons creepily morphed into George Bush in 2004. That didn't work, despite the overwhelming majority Kerry took in the 2nd District. It also didn't work the first time Courtney ran against Simmons, in 2002.
But maybe this is a different Simmons. The Journal-Inquirer ran this editorial the other day, wondering where Simmons had gone:
He was once omnipresent and peripatetic. But Rob Simmons sightings are increasingly rare, at least in locales where someone might ask him a hard question.
A few weeks ago, the Journal Inquirer offered to sponsor a debate between the 2nd District congressman and his opponent, Democrat Joe Courtney.
Courtney immediately said yes, contingent upon ground rules to be agreed upon by both campaigns.
Simmons' campaign gave a different response. The campaign manager didn't say no, but his reaction was negative. "We have a bunch of debates scheduled already," he said.
Maybe that was true then. Or he thought it was. But as of today, only three debates are scheduled.
Is Simmons really going to duck discussion and debate on the war, the president, health care, and the economy until November? Simmons is a seasoned politician and skilled debater. Is it in the voters' interests, or even his own, to hide in Dick Cheney's bunker? ("Has")
To be fair, Simmons addressed the war in Monday's debate, although he gave an answer that might not necessarily be what 2nd District voters want to hear.
The idea that Simmons is MIA in the northwestern part of the 2nd District is also interesting. Simmons may be hoping that increased support in New London County will save him from Courtney. It won't. Enfield is going to be the key town in this race, I think. Simmons won it in 2002 and 2004.
Courtney's going to win New London, Norwich, a handful of towns around UCONN (Mansfield, Willimantic, Ashford, Columbia and maybe Andover and a few others) and his hometown of Vernon. If he can take Enfield from Simmons, he wins the seat.
Simmons has been good about showing up in Enfield. If, as the J-I asserts, he's not been visible here lately, it could hurt him badly.
I'll be waiting for more articles on this debate to come out, and we'll be following the race closely here. I was once pretty sure Simmons had this one in the bag. Now? I can't call it either way.
"Has anyone seen this man?." Journal-Inquirer 15 September, 2006.
"Simmons, Courtney clash over change in Washington." Associated Press 18 September, 2006.