The political comeback of the self-proclaimed centrist suffered a setback a day earlier, with GOP frontrunner Linda McMahon widening a 9-point advantage over Shays to 29 points in the latest Quinnipiac University poll of registered Republicans.
This is the second shot at the Senate for McMahon, who won a three-way primary two years ago, but lost the general election to Democrat Richard Blumenthal by 12 points in a year that was fruitful for many Republicans.
"Look, with all due respect, she ran the last time and had a 40 mph wind behind her back and came up short," Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff under President George W. Bush, told reporters on his way into the closed-door event.
"I want to win this race."
McMahon's campaign branded Shays as a Washington has-been who sorely lacks the business background needed to fix the economy.
"We love the fact that Washington insiders love Congressman Shays," said Chris LaCivita, a strategist for McMahon.
Some 80 to 100 Republicans were expected at the fundraiser for Shays, each paying up $1,000 to chat with Rove.
"I'm delighted he's here," Shays beamed as Rove opened the door of a Greenwich Taxi cab.
Now a talking head for Fox News Channel, who is revered by conservatives and reviled by liberals, Rove committed to the fundraiser before the results of the latest Quinnipiac University poll were released Wednesday.
"I enjoyed our work together for a number of years," Rove said of Shays.
With a Texas twang, Rove characterized Shays as an honest broker.
"He's an independent cuss and speaks his mind plainly, which is why we like him," Rove said. "You didn't have to agree with him 100 percent of the time and he didn't agree with us 100 percent of the time."
Not only did McMahon win the GOP endorsement at the state party convention last month, but the ex-wrestling mogul now out-polls Shays in a hypothetical general election matchup against Democrat Christopher Murphy.
Shays represented the 4th Congressional District from 1987 until his 2008 ouster, was raising money for the Aug. 14 primary.
Rove attributed McMahon's bounce to advertising.
"A couple a million dollars of unanswered TV does wonders," Rove said. "She's got near name saturation."
McMahon's campaign responded that there is a disconnect between Connecticut and Washington.
"According to the Quinnipiac survey, Linda McMahon is the most electable Republican running for the United States Senate and the only one that is in a position to beat Chris Murphy," LaCivita said. "No amount of Washington spin can change the fact that data doesn't lie."
Fundraising totals were not available from the Shays campaign, which has marketed the career public servant as the most electable Republican in the race.
Goodfriend is the founder of American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit organization that assists veterans with the transition from the military to the civilian workforce.
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