New London - Republican Rob Simmons called an end to his campaign for the U.S. Senate this morning, saying he could no longer hope to win his party's nomination after losing the convention endorsement to newcomer Linda McMahon.
To stay in the race without it, he said this morning, would "equate to Pickett's Charge."
In an interview in the parking lot outside New London's WXLM-FM radio, where Simmons first announced his decision to "scale back" his Senate campaign, the candidate said he was disappointed that convention delegates awarded the party endorsement to McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. who has pledged to spend as much as $50 million of her own money on the Senate race.
Simmons, who led the Republican primary race just a few months ago, said he needed the party endorsement - and the organizational aid and assistance with fundraising that goes along with it - to remain competitive with McMahon in the run-up to the Aug. 10 primary.
"You can't argue with arithmetic," Simmons said, as he stood in the mostly empty parking lot outside the station with his wife Heidi, daughter Jane, and campaign manager Jim Barnett. "And my party made the decision not to give me their support at the convention. That was my party's decision to do that. They knew that I needed that support. They knew that the only way I could combat tens of milions of dollars was to have the support of the party, but they were not willing to provide that, or at least a slim majority were not willing to give me that chance."
Simmons flatly rejected speculation he might jump into the 2nd District Congressional race, in an effort to reclaim his old seat.
"Negative," he said, shaking his head.
The Simmons campaign is effectively at an end, the candidate and his staff said. Staff will be laid off and allowed to seek work on other races, and Simmons will not continue campaigning. The candidate will remain on the August primary ballot, for which he qualified by securing well more than the threshold of 15 percent of the delegates at the convention.
Remaining on the ballot enables the Simmons campaign greater leeway in resolving its finances. It also means Simmons would still be available should McMahon's candidacy falter over the summer, though an individual familiar with the Simmons campaign said the candidate was not expecting such a possibility.
A Republican primary was virtually assured even without Simmons' decision to stay on the ballot, since there are contested primary contests for governor and attorney general.
Simmons' remarks to WXLM host Lee Elci, and later in the parking lot, included more than a tinge of regret that party delegates had - in the view of Simmons and his supporters - chosen McMahon and her money over his long record of public service, which includes tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, 10 years in the state legislature and three terms in Congress representing the 2nd District in eastern Connecticut.
In his radio appearance, Simmons said some delegates had decided to "bail" on his candidacy during Friday's Republican convention, and also criticized what he said was a failure to take the implications of the endorsement "seriously."
As for McMahon and her personal fortune, Simmons said: "That, I think, has just twisted people into thinking that the money is going to buy the race. So what the heck, let's just shut it down."
Moments later, Simmons spoke of his own military service and other forms of service to the public, and said the party had decided not to support him, but instead to back McMahon for pragmatic reasons.
"It seems," he said, "that those values were set aside for money."
"We probably could have stuck it out for a few more months, but what would that have gotten us?" Simmons said. "... I'm not sure it would change things."
Simmons, who served in Congress from 2000 to 2006, entered last weekend's convention as the favorite to win the party endorsement.
The candidate announced after the convention that he would fight on to Aug. 10, but after reflection in church over the weekend and a day of conversations with campaign contributors and other supporters on Monday, Simmons had changed his mind.
"I have to think about my family, my supporters, my donors, my people who have been flat out for 16 months now proceeding without unlimited funds, without the support of the party," Simmons said. "I equate that to Pickett's Charge."