Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Linda McMahon applauds supporters… (Jessica Hill / Associated…)
Undeterred after sinking $50 million of her personal fortune into a failed Senate bid in 2010, Linda McMahon is back on the Connecticut ballot, this time to try to claim the seat of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman.
McMahon, a former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive, is the clear front-runner to win the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary after out-spending and out-polling former Rep. Chris Shays. She’ll likely face Rep. Chris Murphy, who appears poised to beat former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in the race for the Democratic nomination.
That will set up a contest much like the one that took place in 2010, when McMahon spent endless amounts of money waging a campaign that was ultimately overshadowed by her ties to the wrestling entertainment industry.
But this time could be different: McMahon, drawing on her business record, is selling herself as a “proven job creator.” And she’s building a stronger campaign organization than she had last time around, as evidenced by a slight improvement in fundraising.
Still, she would face a tough opponent in Murphy, 39, an up-and-comer who has focused much of his three-term tenure in Washington on improving congressional ethics.
Connecticut is a Democratic-leaning state, but the largest portion of registered voters – more than 850,000 – are independents. So while Murphy will enjoy a registration advantage, both candidates will need to appeal to independents, the same voters who have consistently backed Lieberman, a former Democrat-turned-independent who is known for bucking the Democratic establishment.
Murphy, by contrast, has been a reliable supporter of Democratic policies in Washington. He was an outspoken advocate for a public health insurance option when Democrats were crafting their healthcare bill. That idea was blocked in the Senate by Lieberman.
In the 2010 Senate race, despite a Republican wave, McMahon lost handily to then-Atty. Gen. Dick Blumenthal. She financed that campaign almost exclusively from her own deep pockets, a mistake she is trying to correct this time around.
She has raised about $665,000 in contributions from individuals – considerably more than the $110,000 in individual contributions she received in 2010 – according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Still, that’s less than half the $1.4 million raised from individual contributors by her Republican primary opponent, Shays, who has used McMahon’s wrestling past to galvanize support.
As chief executive of WWE, McMahon, “made the decision to promote bullying, violence and degradation of women, minorities and the disabled to grow her business,” Shays wrote in a recent fundraising plea.
McMahon disputes that characterization of her time at the WWE helm, but she’ll face an uphill battle in the general election as she tries to counter similar – but surely more intense – attacks from Democrats.
A recent poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows McMahon with a 48 percentage point lead over Shays. Murphy has a 17-point lead over Bysiewicz.
Also on Tuesday, voters in Florida will decide on a Republican candidate to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson.
Rep. Connie Mack IV is the clear front-runner over retired Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Rep. Dave Weldon.
Republicans view the race as an opportunity to swipe a swing state Senate seat from Democrats. Mack has a very slight – 0.25% – advantage over Nelson in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, but prognosticators say the race currently leans in the Democrats’ favor.
Follow Politics Now on Twitter