(Updated 8:17 p.m.) Last year when Linda McMahon ran for the U.S. Senate, it was women voters who doomed her failed bid against former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
Today she announced she’s running for U.S. Senate again. And this time things will be different, supporters said Tuesday.
She isn’t running against a 20-year incumbent attorney general. Her Republican opponents include former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy, and attorney Brian K. Hill of Windsor, none of whom have run statewide campaigns.
And this time she has a strategy to win female voters.
Pundits had theories galore as polls closed in 2010 showing Blumenthal with double-digit leads among women. Some women were offended by the professional wrestling organization McMahon headed with her husband, while others were upset with the plethora of advertising.
Some even theorized that if McMahon had engendered even a little bit less animosity among female voters 2010 might have been a cakewalk.
This year is different.
Chris Healy, former chairman of the Republican Party, said McMahon has learned many lessons from her first campaign.
“I think if you look at the numbers over the course of the campaign she began to win women back and I think that was in partly due to going out and meeting with women of all demographics,” Healy said. “And that turned around, I saw it in groups of 50 to 100 people.”
Healy said he thinks McMahon recognizes she needs to do a little more work there.
“Ultimately the women of this state are the ones that really keep the household together,” Healy said.
In her 10-minute announcement speech at a Southington manufacturing company, McMahon talked about women and families. She didn’t talk about World Wrestling Entertainment or her husband Vince McMahon, who is still in charge of the organization.
“I met working mothers everywhere I went in my last campaign, and I still think of the one who took my hand in her hands and said, ‘Don’t forget about me,’” McMahon said.
She said two years ago unemployment was at eight percent. Today it’s more than 9 percent, and two years ago the national debt was $12.6 trillion dollars. Today its ballooned to $15 trillion.
The matriarch of a professional wrestling empire said she thinks it’s clear that no matter what political party someone belongs to “that we’re going down the wrong economic track.”
Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington said his evolution to becoming a McMahon supporter was slow to start.
“She broke me down. She’s just on a personal level so engaging, so human, and so sincere,” Markley said.
But Markley admitted he has an advantage because he was able to get to know her and make a judgment about her based on his personal experience. He said that’s not something the general public gets to do.
“I feel like last time she would have been a stronger candidate if she hadn’t had any money and would have spent all of her time out meeting people,” Markley said. “That’s how she has to approach it, spend as much time outside Stop & Shop meeting small groups of people.”
For the $50 million McMahon spent on her last campaign, including the glossy mailers and television ads in 2010, Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz observed the images didn’t warm some people to her. Something about that image, campaign strategy, and biography backfired.
McMahon said her 2012 campaign will be different because she’s not running against a well-known politician whose held elected office for years, but she’s also going to keep doing the things that worked, such as meeting as many voters as she can.
But McMahon, who has greater name recognition, still faces an uphill climb with women voters.
The Quinnipiac University poll which came out last week showed McMahon’s approval rating among women at about 35 percent, which is an improvement from her overall lowest of 20 percent in Nov. 2009 and also down from her high of 43 percent.
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, one of McMahon’s opponents for the Senate seat, also doesn’t do well among women voters. In last week’s poll Shays received a 35 percent approval rating from women too, but his overall rating was higher at 41 to 14 percent. McMahon’s overall approval rating was still in negative territory with 38 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving.
But Markley contends that if she can get out and connect with voters he’s confident their reaction will be universally positive.
“She’s a political outsider. She’s not beholden to anyone and that’s something people are going to be looking for,” Markley said.
“I’m a mom. I’m a grandmother. I’ve been a working mother. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve faced a lot of issues they have,” McMahon said in a one-on-one interview with CTNewsjunkie. “There’s a lot of women my age, or even a little bit younger than me that now have children graduating from college who don’t have a job and are moving back in, at the same time they have elderly parents.”
“I get it,” McMahon said.
In her speech announcing her bid Tuesday, McMahon, who retired from the World Wrestling Entertainment empire before her last bid, painted herself as a “proven job creator.”
But she broke from prepared script for a second to talk about Jeff and Maureen Gagnon’s daughter Morgan. The Gagnon’s are the owners of Coil Pro in Southington where the announcement was made.
“If I stand her for no other reason today, it’s because of the Morgan’s of the world,” McMahon said. “It’s that next generation. It’s out children and our grandchildren that are coming forth. We have to make sure we can give them the American dream.”
Asked about whether she will spend some of her personal fortune on the campaign, McMahon said she was very willing to put some of her own money in again, but plans on having a robust fundraising effort.
“I sincerely hope we’ll raise a good portion of the cost of the campaign,” McMahon said.
But while McMahon looks to implement a new strategy, Connecticut’s Democratic Party said she’s the same woman who ran in 2010.
“A CEO who made millions by putting her profits before the health and safety of her employees and by marketing a product based on sex and violence to children,” Connecticut Democratic Party spokesperson Jacie Falkowski said in a press release.
“Nothing has changed since last year,” Falkowski said. “She still laid off 10 percent of her workforce in 2009. She’s still the CEO who profited from violence and the degradation of women and the CEO who allowed rampant illegal steroid use in her company. She’s still the businesswoman who didn’t offer her employees any sort basic health care and who wouldn’t rule out reducing the minimum wage.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chimed in with a similar statement.
“Connecticut voters said they didn’t need a greedy CEO like McMahon who made her fortune by putting her own profits before the health and safety of her workers and marketing sex and violence to children. Nothing has changed about McMahon since voters resoundingly rejected her candidacy last year and she shouldn’t be surprised when it happens again this time around,” Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said.