Cash Throwdown Helps Ex-Wrestling CEO McMahon in Senate Contest
By Peter S. Green
(Bloomberg)—More than $21 million into her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon outspent Democrat Richard Blumenthal 16-to-1 through the year's first half and narrowed his lead to 6 percentage points in a new poll.
McMahon, 61, who built a wrestling business into a billion- dollar empire with her husband Vince, is self-financing her candidacy. Pledging to spend as much as $50 million, she has unleashed a tide of television ads, mailings and lawn signs that have propelled her from insurgent to Republican nominee to potential winner.
Blumenthal, 64, the state's attorney general, will get a visit today from President Barack Obama to boost his campaign coffers. Blumenthal raised $3.5 million and spent about $1.3 million as of June 30, according to Federal Election Commission records. McMahon reported spending about $21.3 million through that date.
"I've never seen anything like it," Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut, said of McMahon's cash outlay. "She seems to be flooding Connecticut voters with her mailings and TV ads. She's just been hammering Blumenthal and introducing herself."
McMahon is one of several candidates reaching into their pockets to fund their campaigns, helping fuel record political spending. Between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010, Senate candidates spent $311 million, more than any other 18-month period since at least 1991-92, according to the FEC.
In California, Republican Senate nominee Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive officer, lent her campaign $5.4 million through June 30, FEC filings show. Ron Johnson, the Republican Senate nominee in Wisconsin, lent himself $4.4 million through Aug. 25, according to the filings.
McMahon's money is why Chuck Lindblom, a 23-year-old database manager who voted for Obama in 2008, is behind her.
"She's not taking PAC money or special interest money," Lindblom said at a fair in North Haven, Connecticut. "We can't change anything if we keep taking special-interest money."
Blumenthal raised $2.8 million, or nearly 80 percent of his total, from 2,469 individuals as of June 30, while McMahon raised $26,282, or one-tenth of 1 percent of her funds, from 525 individuals, according to federal records.
Obama raised more than $7 million for Democratic candidates and organizations in August. Today's fundraising trip is his first in September. "The president will continue those efforts throughout the election," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday.
Schwartz of the Quinnipiac Poll said Blumenthal "definitely needs the help" from Obama "to compete with McMahon's millions." The "negative side" is that Obama "can be a drag on Blumenthal because he does have a negative approval rating in Connecticut," Schwartz said.
A Quinnipiac poll released Sept. 14 found Blumenthal leading McMahon 51 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. The survey's error margin was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. A poll released July 16 gave Blumenthal a 17 point lead.
As attorney general for 20 years, Blumenthal carved out a reputation for taking on corporate interests. He sued utilities to reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions, and won a $1.3 million settlement from Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. after probing whether the company illegally inflated insurance costs nationwide. In April, he sued Westport National Bank for aiding Bernard L. Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
He said his record of achievements will win the race, not money. "We are going to have an election, not an auction," Blumenthal said in an interview.
McMahon said her experience as co-founder and onetime CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. means she knows how to create jobs. In Congress, job creation and slashing the federal budget would be her focus, she said.
The Social Security and Medicare programs "can't keep going in the direction they are in now" financially, she said. Declining to specify her ideas for addressing such concerns, she said, "When candidates start talking about that stuff on the campaign trail, they just get demagogued."
McMahon has faced allegations that the WWE condoned or ignored steroid and drug use by wrestlers, and abandoned some who were left disabled by their careers or who killed themselves. A group named Mothers Opposing McMahon has aired video of Vince McMahon and wrestlers hitting and humiliating women as part of the WWE programs.
McMahon dismisses such attacks the same way she scoffs at the notion that WWE matches aren't scripted: "It's a soap opera" she said in an interview, echoing a line from one of her television ads.
Blumenthal suffered a setback when The New York Times reported in May that in some public references to his military service during the Vietnam War, he'd suggested he'd been based there. In fact, he was stationed stateside in the U.S. Marine Reserves.
McMahon's campaign later claimed its $16 million dollar opposition research effort helped uncover the discrepancies.
Turning her cash advantage into victory will depend on whether McMahon can redefine Blumenthal's image, said Howard Rieter, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
"She's attempting to erode his image as a straight shooter and public servant, and he has some self-inflicted wounds," Rieter said in an interview. "He hasn't done what he needed to do to avoid those kinds of attacks."
"Dick has got to answer Linda and her negative attacks, and he has not," said Curt Bosco, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee in Middlebury, Connecticut.
— With assistance from Andrew Frye and Karen Freifeld in New York and Jonathan Salant, Lorraine Woellert and Nicholas Johnston in Washington.