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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — It's been hard to tell there's a race this year for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.

Facing re-election to a second term, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal has run a series of TV ads touting his record of "fighting for" various groups, including veterans, women and consumers. But for the most part, it's been business-as-usual for the senator: federal grant announcements, calls for congressional action and public appearances as the state's senior senator, not as a candidate.

Meanwhile, his Republican challenger, Bethel state Rep. Dan Carter, has struggled to attract attention to his critiques of Blumenthal or his calls for a stronger military, replacement of the federal health care law and a fairer tax code. Vastly out-matched in fundraising — coupled with being a late entry in the race — Carter had hoped debates with Blumenthal would help get his message out. But ultimately, the incumbent only agreed to one televised match-up.

At the same time, much of the state's attention has been focused on the hotly contested presidential election.

"I really wanted this to be a different kind of race," said Carter, who has been running online ads and campaigning at fairs, festivals and commuter rail platforms across the state. However, Carter said "the air got sucked out of the room by the top of the ticket," allowing "somebody like Blumenthal to hide" behind a large war chest.

A campaign spokeswoman contends Blumenthal hasn't been hiding.

"Senator Blumenthal is focused on doing his job for the people of Connecticut and they know that because they see him every day in their workplaces, their schools and their community centers. He is out there listening to people and letting them know where he stands," said Marla Romash in an email. She also insisted Blumenthal runs every campaign, including this one, "as if he is 20-points back."

Blumenthal hasn't left Carter, a former U.S. Air Force officer and pilot, entirely unchallenged. During the debate, he criticized his opponent for voting in 2013 against Connecticut's wide-ranging gun control legislation following the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, a town Carter represents.

"He has received an honors grade from the NRA," Blumenthal said, referring to the National Rifle Association. "I think the NRA and the gun lobby have enough friends already in Washington."

Carter, however, insisted he voted against the bill because it didn't address the underlying issues that lead to the mass killing. He said Connecticut and Washington should focus on stopping illegal gun trafficking and helping people with mental illness.

"That bill that I voted against in 2013 would have done nothing to prevent Sandy Hook from happening," Carter said.

Unlike Connecticut's last few Senate races, starting in 2006 with former Sen. Joe Lieberman's tough re-election victory, there has been little national interest in this year's election. Former Republican wrestling executive Linda McMahon garnered a lot of attention for spending roughly $100 million over two races against Blumenthal in 2010 and now-Sen. Chris Murphy in 2012. All three Senate elections attracted big-name surrogates to Connecticut and led voters to be deluged with TV ads and mailings.

This time, Blumenthal, the state's former attorney general, is the big-spender in this year's race. Federal records show he has raised at least $8.6 million compared to the $361,934 raised by Carter. The state representative said many establishment Republicans who typically give money to Connecticut candidates have sat out this year's election because of their opposition to Donald Trump, the GOP's presidential nominee.

Even Quinnipiac University wasn't moved by Connecticut's Senate race. It conducted only one poll in June, before it was known Carter would win his party's backing at the state Republican convention. In the survey of 1,330 registered voters, Blumenthal led Carter by a 60 percent to 30 percent margin. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

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Dave Rinelli
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