Wrestling With Linda McMahon's Connecticut

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By Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson

This is part of a continuing dialogue between Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson about the 2012 campaign.

Ramesh: Who would have thought that Connecticut would see a tough Senate race this year? The state went for Obama by 22 percentage points in 2008, and Romney isn’t competitive there this year. In the strong Republican year of 2010, the party’s Senate nominee, Linda McMahon, wasn’t able to make the sale -- and she is again the party’s candidate for Senate this year.

Yet strategists in both parties think McMahon is making a credible run her second time around. Accused of trying to buy herself a seat in 2010, she has spent the last two years building relationships rather than on the airwaves. She has cultivated the image of a successful mother and CEO, with the emphasis off the fact that her company was World Wrestling Entertainment. She has replaced most of her staff. She has compensated for the weakness of the state Republican Party by, in effect, paying to build a party of her own. Republicans who have worked in the state for years marvel at her field operation.

Another difference from 2010: She is facing a weaker Democratic opponent. Richard Blumenthal, who beat her then, had been a high-profile attorney general for the state for 20 years. Representative Chris Murphy, the Democratic nominee this year, is less well-known, and had a more competitive primary than McMahon did. That fact, combined with her money, gave McMahon the opportunity to define him, which she has done: as a career politician, a no-show representative, and a deadbeat. (He has been sued for nonpayment of rent and for foreclosure.)

An apolitical friend of mine in Connecticut reports that he is seeing more yard signs for McMahon than he did two years ago, and fewer for Murphy than he did for Blumenthal. A Republican ally of McMahon’s says that she will win the race -- so long as Romney holds Obama’s edge to 10 points or less. Connecticut, he says, has become ground zero for control of the U.S. Senate. That’s not what either Connecticut Democrats or Washington Republicans wanted, the former because they expected the seat to be safe and the latter because they thought they had opportunities elsewhere.

McMahon’s husband, Vince, is a two-time world champion in the WWE world. In one of her WWE TV storylines, McMahon kicked her husband in a very sensitive area. Just imagine how much Harry Reid must want to keep her out of the Senate.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)

Margaret: Ramesh, you've got me pinned.  It's unbelievable that Linda McMahon is ahead of Chris Murphy in Connecticut. It’s as unfathomable as her lead in 2010 against Richard Blumenthal. Back then, the Nutmeg State eventually came to its senses and elected Blumenthal. I'm confident that the land of village squares, babbling brooks and rolling hills will sober up again.

You’re right that Murphy is no Blumenthal. Not even Blumenthal was Blumenthal in 2010, at least until he won. For most of the campaign he was a stiff, humorless scold who'd exaggerated his service “during” the Vietnam War, not in the Vietnam War. Not a hair on his head had ever moved.  He made Mitt Romney look like a clown at the circus.

Voters didn't come to love Blumenthal. But they came to know McMahon as a bored businesswoman seeking a job she wasn’t qualified for and didn’t deserve. Nothing’s changed about that. She's not your usual CEO. She added sex to a tired genre, occasionally playing a dominatrix with a gusto that would make the author of "Fifty Shades of Grey" blush. And there’s more than cause for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to protect himself should she win, Ramesh. My favorite was McMahon being beaten up by her own daughter to chants of “slut, slut, slut,” with Mom then slipping into a coma and a wheelchair as she watched Dad (her husband Vince) go off to have undisturbed sex with a diva.

You have to take my word for McMahon in her former life, Ramesh, as you can’t see for yourself. The most offensive episodes have disappeared from the Internet: "To better reflect our current family-friendly brand of entertainment, WWE is removing some dated and edgier footage from digital platforms," the company said in a statement, adding that "some of this footage has been misused in political environments."

Murphy is going to have to get along without such digital evidence, but he’s still coming back. The barrage of ads that set out to define the little-known congressman before he got going has run its course. He’s current on his payments now and didn’t get a sweetheart deal when he refinanced from a bank he once worked for. It’s also come out that you wouldn’t want to extend credit to McMahon either. She and Vince filed for bankruptcy in 1976, owing 26 creditors almost $1 million according to the Day of New London.

So it’s a dead heat on who’s the bigger deadbeat. On other issues, both favor tax cuts for the middle class and both are pro-choice, although McMahon would not require private insurers to cover contraception. In case women took that badly, in a recent she declares, "I am a woman.” I suppose, if you saw those now-scrubbed-from-the-Web WWE videos, you might still wonder.

I agree, Ramesh, that this year is different than 2010, and that McMahon has pretty successfully deep-sixed her former self for the grandmother who just wants to set the country right. On the other hand, she’s got Mitt Romney dragging her down this time. I wouldn’t tell Reid to crouch just yet.

(Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)


-0- Oct/03/2012 13:40 GMT