While the political goings-on in neighboring states are nothing to brag about, Connecticut has really stuck out like a sore thumb lately.
Last year, on my return from Cape Cod, I wrote of the Bay Staters’ dismay at Connecticut’s wretched budget fiasco. People were amazed that a crummy little state like Connecticut could rack up a $3.6 billion budget deficit and then pass a spending package based on $1.6 billion in labor concessions that hadn’t even been secured yet.
This year, some people wanted to know why there’s so much corruption in the Nutmeg State. I told them it should come as no surprise that Connecticut, sandwiched as it is between Tammany Hall and Beacon Hill, has more than its share of crooks and FBI investigations.
But to my surprise, the greatest interest was in two-time Republican U. S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon. How could a political neophyte who used to peddle the sordid side of popular culture possibly be taken seriously as a blue-state candidate for the august body that occupies the United States Capitol?
The answer, of course, lies in the ledger of McMahon’s checkbook. She spent a reported $50 million in her unsuccessful attempt to beat former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in her 2010 race for the Senate. From Groton to Salisbury, TV screens and inboxes were saturated with commercials, fancy emails and glossy flyers. Still, she wound up losing by 11 points to a political hack who was crippled by false statements he’d made about his military record.
It remains to be seen how much she’ll spend on the current campaign but I’d be shocked if it was less than she did two years ago. So, the Bay Staters wanted to know, why would anyone spend $100 million to win a job that pays $174,000 a year?
If I had to guess, I’d say she’s bored. After all, how many beautiful-people cocktail parties can you attend in Greenwich without eyeing an upgrade to Georgetown? But beyond that, can she possibly win? Yes and no.
If recent performance is any guide, McMahon will win the Republican nomination with a strong performance in the Aug. 14 primary. She has money to burn, won 60 percent of the delegates at the GOP convention last month, and enjoys the support of many in the party hierarchy. But can she win in November?
Her recent strategy of battling the news media has me perplexed. First off, the company that brought McMahon and her husband Vince their considerable fortune threatened last month to sue the Journal Inquirer after its managing editor, Chris Powell, wrote a column in which he opined that McMahon’s “practical qualifications for office did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.”
The bluster emanating from the WWE rang hollow. It smacked of shutting down debate and sending a message to the media in general. All this over a columnist whose only sin was expressing an opinion about a product. Furthermore, it reinforced the ironic notion that a professional wrestling company would attempt to defeat an opponent through threats and intimidation. In other words, using the same kinds of tactics employed by the faux wrestlers in the WWE ring.
McMahon’s latest battle with the media centers on Norwich Bulletin editorial page editor Ray Hackett, who had the temerity to express his opinion about McMahon’s refusal to meet with editorial boards of state newspapers in advance of the Republican primary.
Team McMahon campaign manager Cory Bliss fired back, accusing Hackett of launching “outrageous” personal attacks on the candidate. Hackett’s response was exactly what mine would have been: What are you afraid of?
For anyone who has followed McMahon’s interminable quest for higher office, the answer is obvious. As someone who’s never even been elected dog catcher, McMahon isn’t exactly steeped in public policy. There was her famous gaffe from the 2010 campaign when she told a shocked pro-business group that a decrease in the minimum wage should be studied, but then could not say what Connecticut’s minimum wage was, nor whether any WWE employees were earning it.
More recently, while making a campaign appearance at Electric Boat in Groton, McMahon said she could support the decisions of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), provided she knew the recommended cuts in advance. Of course, as Hackett himself pointed out, that’s not the way BRAC works. The gaffe rightly prompted both Rep. Chris Murphy, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and former congressman Chris Shays, McMahon’s chief GOP rival, to bemoan McMahon’s lack of knowledge—with the latter branding her as “clueless” about the defense industry.
As I told my Bay State friends, picking fights with men who purchase ink by-the-barrel may sell in a GOP primary. But the independents and moderate Democrats whose support McMahon needs to slay the Murphy juggernaut will not be impressed. If she continues to avoid the Fourth Estate, they’ll view her attacks on the media as rooted in ignorance or arrogance—or both. And Sen. Murphy will move into a much nicer office in January.
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.