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McMahon's millions don't deliver a victory

Updated 11:53 pm, Tuesday, November 6, 2012

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STAMFORD -- Different opponent, different year -- same result for Linda McMahon.

McMahon's courtship of urban voters loyal to President Obama and women went bust Tuesday, as the Greenwich Republican squandered close to another $50 million from her wrestling fortune for an elusive Senate seat, this one occupied by Joe Lieberman.

McMahon, 64, lost big in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, offsetting any perceived advantage she might have enjoyed in affluent suburban areas, early election returns showed.

Nearly two hours after The Associated Press called the race for U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-5, McMahon consoled her deflated supporters at the Hilton Stamford Hotel and urged them to hold lawmakers accountable in Washington, D.C.

"They work for us," McMahon said. "If we let them forget that, shame on us."

Many of McMahon's supporters milled about listlessly in the same hotel ballroom where she celebrated her victory in the Republican primary in August, a lopsided affair over former Congressman Christopher Shays.

Some drowned their sorrows at the open bar. Others took home the centerpieces.

Up until McMahon finally emerged, the biggest cheer of the night came for an early Fox News Channel projection in the presidential race.

"I'm heartbroken," said a Kathy McShane, a marketing professional from New Canaan who was chair of the Women for Linda Coalition, a volunteer position. "We really needed to have somebody who wasn't a professional politician."

McMahon, in the sequel to her failed 2010 Senate bid, exhibited many of the same elements that helped make her a household name and a historical footnote.

Supplanting former presidential candidate Ross Perot as the top self-funder of all time for federal office, McMahon tapped her wealth for a familiar television advertising and direct mail blitz.

The 2012 campaign marked some key shakeups for McMahon, however.

After losing to then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal by 12 points two years ago, McMahon retooled her campaign staff with a whole new set of faces and softened her image of corporate chieftain.

"From the beginning, it was clear it would be an uphill battle in traditional Democratic strongholds," said Katie Burke, global chief of staff of the public relations giant Edelman and a McMahon supporter.

The Wilton resident is a former Shays aide who worked for President George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani.

In a brief news conference earlier in the day at North Street School in Greenwich, where she voted, McMahon said she had no regrets about race, including the somewhat controversial decision to align herself with Obama.

McMahon's field staff sported T-shirts with the words "I Support Obama & McMahon" in urban centers that are traditional Democratic strongholds. They were strikingly similar to shirts worn by the Service Employees International Union.

The McMahon campaign also utilized door hangers, telling voters it was perfectly acceptable to split their ticket and echoing the script of an unprecedented television commercial featuring Obama supporters who were backing the wrestling mogul.

McMahon is three years removed from the board room of the Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment, now the WWE, where she presided as chief executive officer of her family's publicly-traded company.

Women, who broke 60 to 40 for Blumenthal in 2010, represented the most coveted bloc of the electorate for McMahon this time.

McMahon's campaign invested considerable money and resources targeting female voters, from coffee talks to establishing a presence on websites frequented by women such as Pinterest.

The so-called "war on women" at play in the presidential race trickled down to Connecticut's Senate tilt, with McMahon's foes saying she profited from the degradation of women and that she would enable right-wingers in rolling reproductive rights such as Roe v. Wade if elected to the Senate.

McMahon appeared to peak in late August, when the Quinnipiac poll staked her to a three-point lead over Murphy, who was bombarded by television ads attacking his 20 percent attendance record at committee hearings during his first term in Congress.

"I think we've been very straightforward in characterizing Congressman Murphy's record," McMahon said earlier in the day. "When I look back on the campaign, I don't think I would want to do anything differently."

neil.vigdor@scni.com; 203-625-4436; http://twitter.com/gettinviggy