Linda McMahon, the former head of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., lost her second U.S. Senate bid in three years after spending almost $100 million of her fortune on two Connecticut campaigns.
Democrat Chris Murphy, 39, defeated McMahon 53 percent to 45 percent with 67 percent of the vote counted, according to an Associated Press tally. McMahon, a 64-year-old Republican, used almost $50 million trying to replace retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent.
“Tonight we proved what matters most in life is the measure of your ideas, is the measure of your determination, is the measure of your friends, not the measure of your wallet,” Murphy said at a victory rally.
Murphy, a three-term U.S. representative from Cheshire who spent far less than his opponent, nonetheless emerged victorious in a state carried by President Barack Obama in his re-election. McMahon, who helped build her Stamford, Connecticut-based wrestling company into a global entertainment franchise, spent almost as much in 2010 in a failed bid to win the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd, a Democrat.
“She spent all this money in these two campaigns and doesn’t have anything to show for it,” Vincent Moscardelli, who teaches politics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, said before the polls opened. She lost in 2010 to Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who was then the state attorney general.
McMahon’s 2012 effort “was a legitimate campaign,” Moscardelli said. “It was well run. It was run by professionals. But the deck was stacked against her.”
Not only does she join a pantheon of wealthy former executives who’ve drawn vast sums from their own fortunes only to lose -- Meg Whitman spent more than $140 million in a fruitless 2010 race for California governor -- McMahon has done it twice. The Greenwich resident also set a record for spending on a largely self-financed bid for office in Connecticut, where campaigns can be costly because the southwest part of the state is in the New York City media market, Moscardelli said.
“It is our responsibility to charge them, to challenge them, to make sure they hear what we say, and to make sure they are doing what we need, because they work for us,” McMahon said in a concession speech regarding Democrats.
McMahon had offered Republicans a glimmer of hope that they might wrest away the Senate seat in a state controlled by Democrats. She led in some voter surveys as her television spots cast her as a grandmother with a record of creating jobs and painted Murphy as a Washington insider with shoddy personal finances and often a no-show in Congress.
The wrestling company, still run by her husband, Vince McMahon, also blocked Democrats from using old video clips highlighting the sex and violence portrayed in the scripted matches it televised. Democrats in 2010 branded McMahon the groin kicker after segments showed her taking to the ring in a business suit and, in a staged squabble with Vince, pretending to kick him there.
Murphy countered McMahon’s ads with spots of his own, branding her as a greedy executive who took state tax breaks while firing and mistreating workers. Outside groups such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee came to his aid with at least $7 million to help pay for the commercials. She was also outdueled in debates, where Murphy questioned her commitment to women’s reproductive rights and protecting Social Security.
“Tonight’s victory by Chris shows that we have elections in Connecticut, not auctions,” Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat who joined Murphy on stage for his victory speech, said yesterday in a statement.