Democratic Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz was rolling along as the 2010 campaign season began. She was the top-rated contender among Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, and when she ultimately decided to run for state attorney general instead, she led the field in that contest as well. Then her juggernaut collapsed, destroyed by controversies that led her to abandon elective politics this year.
The big questions now are, does Bysiewicz want to return to politics, and if so, can she make a comeback? “I love public service, and I would love to be involved in the future,” says Bysiewicz. “I have not made any decisions about what form that will take.”
Ironically, one person who believes Bysiewicz still has a future is Republican state Chairman Christopher Healy. “I don’t think she’s done by any means,” he says. “She is a diligent, focused politician.”
Gary Rose, professor of politics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, says Bysiewicz is viable “because of the IOUs she’s building up by helping various candidates,” and adds, “she has statewide name recognition and a strong reputation.”
Before she moves on, Bysiewicz must deal with the controversies that brought her down. Republicans went to court challenging her legal credentials to be attorney general, and the state Supreme Court ruled she was not qualified for the job. Next, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal investigated a computerized voter database maintained by the secretary of the state and deemed some information in it “inappropriate—if not demonstrably a violation of law.” Then there were questions about how Bysiewicz’s campaign committee spent its money after she was declared ineligible to run.
“People may remember [the controversies], but they might not hold it against her in a campaign for a different office,” says Douglas Schwartz, Quinnipiac University Poll director. Rose agrees that Bysiewicz’s 2010 problems could be “ancient history” by the next time she runs.
Bysiewicz argues that much of the controversy was generated by her opponents. “When you are a very popular vote getter, the other party will attack you, and the Republicans did,” she says. “They spent $140,000 in legal fees to challenge my attorney general aspirations.”
Many believe Bysiewicz’s strategy was to become attorney general, and use the post to boost her image for a 2012 run against Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent Democrat who’s considered unlikely to win his old party’s nomination again. “I’ve been getting some very good encouragement to think about [the Senate], and I will consider that along with lots of other things,” Bysiewicz says. She says she’s not interested in running for mayor in her hometown of Middletown in 2011.
If Bysiewicz opts for statewide office again, she may need to mend fences within the Democratic Party.
“The first ring of hell for her is her own people,” Healy contends, “Democrats who will say, ‘We went around this controversy with you—what other shoe may drop?’” A Democratic source hinted Bysiewicz’s “selfishness” in 2010 may be a problem down the road. “She has much less support today than she has ever had among legislative Democrats,” he says.
Several Democrats charge that Bysiewicz’s shift from the gubernatorial race to attorney general created unwanted drama. Many supporters backed her gubernatorial exploratory effort, while promising support to other Democrats eyeing the attorney general contest.
When she switched campaigns, she “put a lot of people in a very awkward position,” says a key Democrat. “She just made things very complicated, and raised the question—what are you going to run for next?”
If Bysiewicz runs again, Healy figures other Democratic candidates may not be happy about it. “Their argument will be: ‘She turned us inside out, we’re not going down this path again, are we?’” he says.
That being said, however, Healy readily concedes that Bysiewicz is “very good at dusting herself off, and charging right back into it again.”
Rose thinks Bysiewicz’s personality and ambition aren’t necessarily turnoffs. “She can be aggressive, but many see her as tenacious, somebody who is not going to go quietly into the night—and they admire that,” he says.Demis-e-wicz?