While introducing wrestling tycoon and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon Monday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell came just shy of endorsing her “friend.“

“I just want to introduce Linda McMahon to you. Then I want to tell you why I call her a friend,” Rell told the crowd of close to 200 mostly gray haired women at the Brad Davis Listener Luncheon in Wallingford.

When the two met several years ago they bonded over the phrase “puttin in tobacco,“ a phrase used for tying up tobacco and putting it the barn, Rell said. During the first conversation the two shared Rell talked about “puttin in tobacco” at a family farm in North Carolina, the state where McMahon grew up and where Rell spent her summers working the tobacco crop.

When she used the phrase with McMahon, McMahon couldn’t help but laugh, Rell said. Rell, who is known for her folksy demeanor, talked about how it’s just the greatest honor when people tell her she’s a normal person.

“That’s what I like about Linda McMahon, she’s a normal person,” Rell said.

Prior to telling the story about McMahon, Rell said she wasn’t endorsing any candidate before the Aug. 10 Republican primary, but it was clear from her introduction that the two consider each other friends.

McMahon, who is trying to shake off the less glamorous aspects of the family wrestling empire in her latest campaign ads, will face Peter Schiff, a Weston money manager, and Rob Simmons, the Vietnam veteran and former CIA agent, in the Republican primary.

Following her formal remarks McMahon said she’s “definitely not taking the primary for granted,” but she’s also steered clear of any debates or forums with her Republican opponents in recent weeks. Most recently declining an invitation last week from the Enfield Grassroots Alliance to attend the debate at Asnuntuck Community College.

A disciplined candidate, who rarely speaks without knowing what she’s going to say, McMahon said she’s done plenty of debates and forums with her opponents. She talked about the televised debate back in March and said there were debates and forums prior to that.

“I’m not shying away from debates,” McMahon said. “I’m looking forward to debating Richard Blumenthal.”

Her Republican opponents say that’s the problem.

With Schiff unable to get enough delegate support at the convention to automatically trigger a primary, and with Simmons curtailing his campaign for several weeks, McMahon had the Republican nomination locked up. That is until Schiff submitted enough signatures to get on the ballot and Simmons decided to get back into the race with more than $350,000 in television commercials.

“The governor had invited me to come today and I appreciate that,” McMahon said. “This is part of a continuing strategy to meet the people of Connecticut and let them get to know me.”

In addition to shaking hands, McMahon, who is followed around most days by a film crew, has stuffed residents mailboxes with fliers. The latest is black and has a question mark on the front of it. It says, “Dick Blumenthal. Leaving us with more questions than answers.”

The inside of the flier talks about Blumenthal’s misstatements about his service during the Vietnam era and cites newspaper articles where Blumenthal exaggerated his service record.

The last Quinnipiac University poll put McMahon far ahead of her Republican opponents, but she still trailed Blumenthal by 17 points.

Another Quinnipiac University poll will be released tomorrow morning.