By Chris Keating, 10/30/2022
HARTFORD — Dick Blumenthal is everywhere.
The U.S. senator’s trademark for years has been routinely working seven days a week — whether or not it is campaign season. Before the past 12 years in the Senate, Blumenthal spent 20 years as the state attorney general and was known for working at a breakneck pace that included ribbon cuttings, parades, multiple television appearances, and more press conferences than any other Connecticut politician.
Even his colleagues in Congress, who regularly fly to Washington, D.C., and keep schedules far busier than the average person, say that Blumenthal is simply at another level.
“This is part of his DNA,’’ said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a New Haven Democrat who has served in Congress for the past 32 years. “But it’s not just in the campaign season. He was that way as attorney general, and he has been that way as a United States senator. You don’t just adopt these things for a campaign season. It’s who you are and what you are about. He does this year-round. This is who he is.’’
The constant appearances, DeLauro said, bear fruit as Blumenthal meets and listens to thousands of residents each year to keep his finger on the political pulse as he makes decisions on crafting legislation.
“People need to see you, they need to know you,’’ DeLauro said in an interview. “They need to know what you stand for. You need to answer their questions. You need to walk in their shoes. We are caretakers. They give us their trust and confidence to do the job for them. They have every right to know what we are doing on that job and what we are doing for their future and the future of their family. And Dick Blumenthal is out talking about these things every day. I’m talking about listening.’’
In a 69-day period through August into October, Blumenthal’s office calculated that he attended 320 events in 60 towns across the state. Some 12-hour days have as many as nine events that take him from his Greenwich home to Groton and then back at night with multiple stops in between. His campaign released three months of daily schedules that showed a consistency of events on the road.
With sky-high name recognition that comes from so many appearances, Blumenthal leads by double digits in public polls in his current battle for reelection against Greenwich Republican fundraiser Leora Levy. But he is not slowing down at age 76; he says he always runs in campaigns as if he is 10 points behind.
If Blumenthal wins again in slightly more than one week, he would be 82 years old at the end of his next six-year term.
“The voters of Connecticut know my age, but they also know my work style and my lifestyle,’’ Blumenthal told the Courant in an interview. “The second point is I have no plans to slow down because I love what I do. … I don’t lead a terribly fascinating or extravagant life. My focus is on work and family.’’
After keeping a breakneck pace for so long, Blumenthal knows no other way.
“I love doing it,’’ Blumenthal said. “I never tire of it, whether it’s a parade or a festival or just a private meeting of three or five people. … I’m enormously flattered when anybody says you’re everywhere. That’s one of the highest compliments for me.’’
On most days at 5:30 a.m., Blumenthal says he goes swimming because that “keeps me sane and in good shape.’’
After training himself not to fall asleep in his car, Blumenthal says some of his most productive time comes while being driven across the state as he returns phone calls, holds Zoom meetings, and writes his thoughts for speeches or meetings.
“I am a coffee drinker, but I’ve tried to cut back somewhat,’’ he said. “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I gave up drinking almost 30 years ago, so I don’t even think about it much anymore.’’
An average day for Blumenthal often has six or more events, and the past week showed that pattern in a typical 12-hour day as Blumenthal on Wednesday arrived in Bridgeport at 9:30 a.m., New Haven at 11 a.m., Hartford at 12:15 p.m., Danbury for events at 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m., and New Haven at 6:45 p.m. before finally returning home to Greenwich by 8:30 p.m.
On another day, Blumenthal had six appearances from East Haven to Hartford before heading home.
The day included a press conference on gun control in Hartford at 11:45 a.m., where Blumenthal had to leave before some other participants because he had an interview over the phone at 12:30 p.m. with longtime radio host Renee DiNino. He was then on the way to another press conference at 1 p.m. to announce a $50,000 grant to digitize 19th century documents at the Avon Free Public Library. He returned back to Hartford for a Zoom meeting by 4 p.m. and then stopped off at 7 p.m. at the Ukrainian National Home in Hartford to review the latest updates on the ongoing war with Russia. He arrived back in Greenwich at 9:30 p.m. after a 13-hour day.
Besides more than 300 in-state events in about two months, Blumenthal has taken two trips to Ukraine in 2022, along with another to Poland to see refugees as they fled from Ukraine.
Blumenthal has been keeping the pace for decades. The running joke is that if you invite him to your 3-year-old’s birthday party, there is a good chance that he will show up.
But Republicans view it differently.
“He enjoys seeing himself on television,’’ said state Republican chairman Ben Proto. “At the end of the day, if he were winning by as large a margin as these polls say he is, why is he spending millions of dollars attacking Leora Levy? I think people are going to be surprised by that race. There’s just no reason that an incumbent who has a name recognition probably higher than Joe Biden in the state of Connecticut and Donald Trump, probably well over 95%, needs to spend millions of dollars attacking a woman who everyone says has no chance of winning.’’
Proto added, “I think people are underestimating the pain and suffering that the Democrats have put the people of Connecticut through, and I think that’s going to be reflected in the votes on Nov. 8.’’
A veteran political operative who has been running campaigns for decades, Proto has been watching Blumenthal closely for years.
“Dick would go to a garage door opening,’’ Proto said. “That’s who Dick is.’’
Blumenthal has been far ahead of Levy in public polls, including up by 15 percentage points in the latest Quinnipiac University poll that was taken from Oct. 19 to 23, and up by 13 points in the most recent Emerson College survey that was released by Channel 8 with 5% undecided. The margin of error in the Channel 8 poll was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
As a first-time statewide candidate, Levy has been having difficulties with name recognition as 31% in the Quinnipiac poll and 24% in the Channel 8 poll said they didn’t know enough about her to have an opinion.
The only poll that has been close was one by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, released by CT Examiner, that showed Blumenthal leading by 49% to 44% with 7% undecided. Democrats strongly downplayed the survey as a Republican-leaning poll.
But Levy told The Courant that the Fabrizio survey is accurate and is not an outlier. Instead, she views other public polls as unreliable.
“They oversample Democrats,’’ Levy said of polls showing her trailing. “They oversample college graduates. Our voters — many Republicans — won’t speak to pollsters because they just won’t. … I think this one [by Fabrizio] is accurate. It confirms what we’ve seen in our own internal data and what we’ve been feeling on the ground. It feels very good on the ground.’’
Levy added, “Everywhere I go around our great state — you name it — people come up to me and say, ‘Don’t tell anyone. I’m a Democrat, but I’m voting for you.’ That happens every single stop I make unless it’s a purely Republican event.’’
But Gary Rose, a longtime political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, says he believes the public polls are accurate and said there is a widespread impression that Levy is not campaigning vigorously because she is not seen much in public.
“There is a notion out there that she has largely receded and disappeared from the race,’’ Rose said of Levy. “Blumenthal not only has an incredible scheduler, but he always makes sure someone is there to take the picture. That’s news to me that Levy is out and about. I don’t believe there is anyone I’ve actually spoken to who has ever seen her at an event. I really don’t see it — nothing — if she’s appearing at places. That’s one thing about Blumenthal. You know where he’s been because every place he goes he gets a photo op.’’
Blumenthal is on the move year-round and has never been known for disappearing on extended vacations.
“We go away as a family for a number of days — from a long weekend to six days. I can’t quantify it exactly,’’ Blumenthal said. “We really try to get together once a year as a family. It used to be a lot easier because my kids were in school. Now, they’re on different work schedules. The short answer is whether it’s a day or a weekend, we try to carve out family time to be together.’’
With slightly more than one week left in the campaign, the candidates and their staffs are picking up the pace to greet residents and get out the vote.
With years of experience in the intricacies of keeping a fast-paced schedule of his own, U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said he is impressed when he talks with Blumenthal’s longtime aide, Rich Kehoe of East Hartford, about how Blumenthal’s staff and driver can pull off the daily logistics of making so many stops.
“I marvel at the fact that he’s able to do this and get around the state with record mobility,’’ Larson said in an interview. “It’s the old saying: hard work works. He’s amazing. He’s just phenomenal in terms of his ability to get around the state and be at these events. Showing up is so important to so many people. … He has the most name recognition of anybody in the delegation. And he doesn’t do it just in election years.’’