It's All Politics
4:58 pm
Mon August 13, 2012

Favored In GOP Senate Primary, Linda McMahon Faces Critics Left And Right

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 5:12 pm

Two years ago, Republican Linda McMahon ran for an open U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, spent $50 million of her own money in the process, and lost.

In an otherwise Republican year, the former top executive at World Wrestling Entertainment was easily beaten by Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

Now, McMahon is trying again — running for the seat of outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.

McMahon faces former Rep. Christopher Shays in Tuesday's GOP primary. Polls have shown McMahon as the front-runner.

Should she make it to the general election, she'll face the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary between Rep. Christopher Murphy and former Connecticut Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. Polls have shown Murphy with a commanding lead.

McMahon's critics call her a big-spending political novice trying to buy herself a Senate seat — a strategy that may work in a primary but didn't work in the general election two years ago.

McMahon says she has a grass-roots operation she didn't have two years ago. "By November, we will have knocked on half a million doors and made a million phone calls, touch points to our voters," McMahon says.

Shays says he is running because he wants his country back. He also says he wants to take the GOP back from the people who supported McMahon in 2010.

"There's really nothing different about her campaign [in 2012 compared with 2010] except the fact that she's saying, you know, 'I'm a softer, nicer person.' She's the same person. She made her money in the WWE," says Shays. "In order to make more money in the WWE, they got further down in the gutter. That's not the kind of candidate that I think this Connecticut Yankee state is going to elect."

State Democrats are making the same argument. They have featured advertising that includes a World Wrestling Entertainment skit in which a woman is berated by McMahon's husband — Vince McMahon, CEO of the WWE — who incites the crowd at an event by telling the woman to bark like a dog.

McMahon counters with female supporters of her own. "What we see in Linda is this person who is not a professional politician. She is a job creator, and she also understands the challenges that we as women have," says supporter Kathy McShane, who says she is attracted to McMahon's personal narrative as a professional who balanced work with children and then grandchildren. "And I just feel that we need somebody who has a different resume."

Former Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican who lost the state party nomination to McMahon in 2010, thought he had the resume to bring him to the Senate. Instead, the Vietnam veteran is taking a break from chipping wood at his Connecticut home, sipping a cold glass of water — talking about the race he lost and the woman who beat him.

This time, he says McMahon is running the same, top-down, money-heavy race she did two years ago. He cites polling that shows nearly as many people who have heard about her don't like her as those who do.

"Are these suburban and rural areas going to be enthusiastic about a person who has made a ton of money in an industry that glorifies violence, bullying, aggression and violence against women, drug use?" alleges Simmons.

Simmons also has one very simple question: "Can this kind of candidate win?"

The answer to that may still be two months off.

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnpr.org.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. It's primary day in Connecticut tomorrow and Linda McMahon is running for U.S. Senate again. You may remember that she ran for an open seat two years ago. McMahon is a Republican and former executive at WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. She spent $50 million of her own money in that last race and she lost in what was otherwise a Republican year.

Now, McMahon is trying for the seat of outgoing independent Senator Joe Lieberman. Jeff Cohen from member station WNPR reports her critics' question, whether she is fit to serve.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: It's just a few days from the primary and Linda McMahon is opening yet another campaign office, this one in Danbury, Connecticut. The point is clear. She's already focused on the general election. If she makes it there, she'll still have something to prove to her critics, who say that she's a big spending political novice trying to buy herself a Senate seat, a strategy that may work in a primary, but that didn't work in the general election two years ago.

As supporters ate lunch, McMahon explained why this year is different. She says she has a grass roots operation she didn't have two years ago.

LINDA MCMAHON: By November, we will have knocked on a half million doors and made a million phone calls to touch points to our voters.

COHEN: McMahon lost last time around in November to Democrat Richard Blumenthal by 12 percentage points. This time, polls have shown her as the primary frontrunner. Should she make it to the general, she'll face one of two Democrats. In that race, Congressman Christopher Murphy is facing former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. Polls have shown Murphy with a commanding lead.

But Christopher Shays, McMahon's Republican opponent, isn't conceding anything to the polls. His campaign headquarters is full of young volunteers working the phones. He says he's running because he wants his country back. He also says he's in the race because he wants to take his party back from the people who supported McMahon in 2010.

CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: There's really nothing different about her campaign except the fact that she's saying, you know, I'm a softer, nicer person. She's the same person. She made her money in the WWE. In order to make more money in the WWE, they got further down in the gutter. That's not the kind of candidate that I think this Connecticut Yankee state is going to elect.

COHEN: State Democrats are making the same argument. They've featured advertising with a woman named Trish being berated by McMahon's husband, Vince McMahon.

VINCE MCMAHON: I want you to tell me in dog language just how sorry you are. Yeah. Tell me in dog language. Damn it, bark like a dog.

COHEN: McMahon counters with women supporters like Kathy McShane, who says women aren't interested in the content of World Wrestling Entertainment. They're interested in McMahon's plan for the economy. Wrestling is irrelevant. Also, McShane says that women like McMahon's story, her personal narrative as a professional who balanced work with children and then grandchildren.

KATHY MCSHANE: So what we see in Linda is this person who is not a professional politician. She is a job creator and she also understands the challenges that we, as women, have and I just feel we need somebody who has a different resume.

COHEN: Former Congressman Rob Simmons thought he had the resume to bring him to the Senate. Instead, the Vietnam veteran is taking a break from chipping wood at his Connecticut home, sipping a cold glass of water, talking about the race he lost and the woman who beat him. This time, he says McMahon is running the same top down, money-heavy race she did two years ago and he cites polling that shows nearly as many people who've heard about her don't like her as those who do.

ROB SIMMONS: Are these suburban and rural areas going to be enthusiastic about a person who has made a ton of money in an industry that glorifies violence, bullying, aggression and violence against women, drug use?

COHEN: Simmons also has one very simple question.

SIMMONS: Can this kind of a candidate win?

COHEN: The answer to that may still be another two months off. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen in Hartford.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.