Connecticut Republicans endorsed Linda McMahon for the nomination to run against Richard Blumenthal in the race to replace Chris Dodd in the US Senate, at their convention yesterday in Hartford.  Does that mean the race is set?  Not according to Rob Simmons, the former Congressman who had led the polling until earlier this year for the nomination.  Simmons pledged to keep fighting until the primary, when all of the state’s Republican voters will select the eventual nominee:

Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon won her party’s endorsement Friday night in the first round of ballots, defeating early frontrunner and longtime Connecticut GOP insider, former Rep. Rob Simmons.

Simmons, however, pledged to stay in the Aug. 10 primary despite telling the press throughout the race, and as recently as Wednesday, that he would drop out of the race if he didn’t recieve the party’s nod at the convention.

McMahon’s win and Simmons’ announcement set Republicans up for a contentious primary this summer, just days after a damaging New York Times report about the presumed Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal misrepresenting his record of military service appeared to aid Republican hopes of claiming the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D).

McMahon received 737 votes, Simmons received 632 votes and businessman Peter Schiff had 44 votes after the first round of ballots. According to state party convention rules, a candidate must receive over 50 percent to receive the party’s endorsement and McMahon had almost 52 percent of the vote.

Some readers from straight primary or straight convention states may be confused about the process in CT, which is similar to Minnesota’s process. Some states only hold primaries to nominate candidates, and some others only hold nominating conventions. A few states have both conventions and primaries; the conventions produce the endorsement of the parties, and the primary only matters if challengers arise to run against the endorsed candidate. That happens frequently with the DFL in Minnesota, where the endorsed candidate often loses the primary, although the Republicans tend to unite in this state after the convention — which is one of the reasons the DFL hasn’t won a gubernatorial election since 1986 here.

Did Simmons pledge to stay out of the primary if he didn’t win the endorsement? On Thursday, the day before the convention, I spoke to Simmons on TEMS, and he seemed determined to fight all the way through to the primary. With Schiff apparently committing to a primary fight, it makes sense for Simmons to stay in as well. Had he won the endorsement, Simmons told me on Thursday that he’d have to conduct a primary campaign and that no one appeared willing to retreat. That comes about 12 minutes into this interview:

We’ll try to get McMahon this week, too.

Simmons started off the race as a party establishment candidate, and initially scored well against Chris Dodd. When Dodd exited the race, Blumenthal swamped the field with easy double-digit leads for months. Simmons eased off the gas a bit while McMahon poured millions of her own money into the race. She took credit for the damning exposure of Blumenthal’s serial fabulism about his military service that appeared this week in the New York Times, with her campaign taking credit in an e-mail blast by saying, “This is what comes of $16 million, a crack opposition research operation and an opponent who, in the words of the president Blumenthal worked for on a draft deferment, who gave them the sword.” Party activists, who had issues with Simmons’ voting record, gave McMahon the nomination on the first ballot.

The primary comes in mid-August, which leaves Republicans with just two months to unite against the Democratic nominee. If Blumenthal stays in the race, that may be plenty of time to dismantle him after the multiple instances of his claims to service in Vietnam keep coming to light. If Democrats are wise, they’d find a way to get Blumenthal out of the way now in order to build up the new candidate while Republicans beat up each other. They only have until Tuesday to make that decision.