Sign wars and the cost of saving Blumenthal

I walked with a friend to his polling place this morning. It's a little low-slung school in New Haven, hard by the highway.

Out front was the foliage you'd expect: a line of campaign lawn signs with the names of candidates.

Denise Nappier. Denise Merrill. Martin Looney. Rosa DeLauro. Linda McMahon.

At 8:30, there were in fact three McMahon signs, and one other name conspicuously absent: Richard Blumenthal.

My friend voted, and I talked to a guy named Bill who was overseeing the voting.

How was turnout?

"Slow," he said, though they do expect a post-work bump. "We're usually heavier than this."

We started walking back. A red sedan pulled up from Chapel Street and a middle-aged man got out. He was holding a Blumenthal lawn sign, and after some consultation with the volunteer who was stationed outside, he found a place for it between two McMahon placards.

For months, in off-record check-ins and private gripe sessions, Democrats moaned to me and other reporters about the state of the Blumenthal campaign -- what they considered its insularity and seeming ineffectiveness compared to the well-oiled punching mechanism of the McMahon camp.

Even the lawn signs were on back-order, one worker from another campaign told me. It wasn't just that McMahon was embarked on an historical spending blitz (she has spent twice as much as the previous record for a Connecticut Senate race), but also that Blumenthal couldn't seem to get out of his own way. Where were the lawn signs for god's sake, this campaign worker said.

Polls make it seem as if McMahon has plateaued and Blumenthal pulled comfortably ahead. But even on the morning of election day, it's hard to dismiss McMahon's insistence that this is a closer race, and that her campaign has built the stronger strategy with which to pull out voters.

Certainly, Blumenthal seems stronger now. He actually bellowed a greeting to union volunteers Monday night in New Haven, and got a roar of enthusiasm in return. But make no mistake, there is frustration among the Democrats -- particularly those whose candidates might very well lose tonight -- that Blumenthal needed so much propping up over the spring and summer, so much energy that the party might have used to salvage vulnerable congressmen or finally take the governor's office.

That Blumenthal now could win will be good news to his supporters, but there are some who will feel that it was only in spite of himself. And don't think of counting McMahon out just yet.

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