Is Simmons back on the campaign trail for Senate seat?

Hartford - Rob Simmons' U.S. Senate candidacy might not be so over after all.

The former congressman announced Wednesday that he will begin running a television ad this weekend "in the nature of a public service announcement" that urges primary voters to consider small business, national security and trust when choosing among Simmons, Peter Schiff and Linda McMahon in the Aug. 10 Republican primary.

Since he formally suspended his campaign in May, Simmons has publicly toyed with the notion of resuming his candidacy, but the TV ad would be the boldest move yet toward reviving a campaign and contesting the nomination that now appears to be McMahon's to lose.

"In a way, I think that it's my responsibility to let my Republican friends and neighbors know that I'm still on the ballot and they have a choice," Simmons said Wednesday, in a phone interview from New York.

Simmons said he has kept to his word since his announcement that he would halt his active campaigning in May.

"I scaled it back," he said. "I stopped campaigning; I stopped raising money. But as we come close to the primary, I think it's fair to let people know they have a choice."

Simmons has not hired new staff, a spokesman said, and doesn't plan to resume "proactive campaigning," but he will attend events when he is invited.

The candidate is due to appear on WNPR radio's "Where We Live" on Aug. 3, as part of its "Where We Vote" series, and will appear Tuesday at a debate sponsored by the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations at Trinity College in Hartford. Simmons and Schiff will appear, but McMahon will not.

The Simmons ad, which is still being edited, will run on cable and broadcast TV statewide, beginning later this week. A spokesman for Cashman and Katz, the public relations agency that produced the ad and is handling Simmons' media buy, said the campaign would spend about $350,000 on the spot.

In a statement, a spokesman for McMahon scoffed at Simmons' wavering on whether or not he would resume his campaign.

"For eight months, Rob Simmons promised Connecticut Republicans that he would not primary if he lost the convention," said the spokesman, Ed Patru. "He lost the convention, then immediately announced he would primary. Hours later, he dismissed his staff and announced he wouldn't primary. Over the past two months, he's been engaged in a very strange and erratic effort to reconcile his promise not to run with his desire to return to Washington. Today, we are as confused as everyone else."

The McMahon campaign will be prepared if Simmons launches a full-scale campaign, Patru said, adding, "until that happens, following Rob Simmons' on-again, off-again campaign is a little like trying to keep up with an Abbott and Costello routine … Who's on first?"

McMahon's camp wasn't the only one expressing confusion about Simmons' move. Even some of his earliest supporters said they were confounded by the decision.

"My question has always been what happens on Aug. 11," said Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., the Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, who served in the legislature with Simmons and endorsed him before either McMahon or Schiff entered the Senate race.

"If he were to win (the primary), when he has no campaign staff, and hasn't raised any more money, then how does he expect to win in the general election?" Cafero said.

"From my perspective as a Connecticut Republican who believes the state would be better served with a Republican in the Senate, if the end result will be that we lose because the person who is running suspended their campaign and has no money to run against a formidable candidate, then what's the point?"

Cafero said he had shared his doubts about Simmons' strategy with the candidate after Simmons called to let him know he'd be suspending his campaign in May.

"I guess I don't quite get this," Cafero said.

Simmons' move came as a surprise on Wednesday, but it was foreshadowed in the way he "suspended" his campaign on May 25, days after losing the party endorsement to McMahon.

At the time, Simmons said that remaining in the race without the backing of the party and facing off against McMahon's pledge to bankroll her campaign with $50 million from her personal fortune would "equate to Pickett's Charge."

But Simmons also pointedly noted that day that his name would remain on the Republican ballot, allowing his remaining supporters to express their support for him on Aug. 10.

In the intervening weeks, some town committees, including in New London and in Simmons' hometown of Stonington, have voted to renew their endorsements of his candidacy.

And after the surprise announcement on Wednesday, there were notes of support from some other Republicans, including Janet Peckinpaugh, one of three primary candidates hoping to retake his old congressional seat, now held by Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney.

"I believe that Rob Simmons is the Republican Party's best hope to capture the U.S. Senate seat this fall, as well as help Connecticut Republicans regain congressional seats," Peckinpaugh said in a press release. "It is my hope, as it is the hope of thousands of people across Connecticut, that Rob will win the Republican primary and help lead our nation, and our state, back to greatness."

t.mann@theday.com

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