DANBURY — Former Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain endorsed Linda McMahon’s senate campaign Monday, urging a full house of veterans to do everything they can to turn out the Republican vote.
McMahon, a former wrestling CEO, is in a close race for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat against Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy.
During his short speech at the Disabled American Veterans Hall, the Arizona senator pointed to McMahon’s business experience and said she would make a good partner in a Republican-controlled Senate.
“I think I need Linda as someone who will be a partner with me and others, and President Romney, in restoring our nation’s prestige and strength,” McCain said.
McCain noted that the number of registered Democrats in Connecticut exceeds the number of Republicans.
“So you’ve got to, between now and Election Day, call 50 people. Even call your mother-in-law. We’ve got to get this vote out,” McCain said.
The rally likely was the most overtly partisan event McMahon has attended since winning the primary. A Republican running in a predominantly blue state, McMahon rarely points to her party affiliation, preferring instead to refer to herself as an “independent thinker” who’s willing to buck her party when she disagrees with the establishment position. During the rally she twice referred to McCain as an independent thinker.
But Monday’s was very much a Republican event. In addition to McCain, state Republican Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. and GOP 5th District candidate Andrew Roraback were in attendance.
Former U.S. Reps. Rob Simmons and Chris Shays also attended. Both Simmons and Shays have previously run heated primary contests against McMahon. Simmons lost to her in 2010, and Shays did so as well earlier this year.
McCain had previously endorsed Shays’ campaign before the Republican primary in August.
Both former candidates have at times had harsh words for McMahon. Last month, Simmons told CTNewsJunkie that, having never served as a lawmaker, McMahon has “no idea how legislatures” work.
Simmons has since come around to help market his party’s candidate. This weekend he appeared on Face the State with Dennis House in support of McMahon.
“It’s a contest. When the contest is over, everybody moves forward,” Simmons said Monday. “I’m a Republican. She’s the Republican candidate. So I stand here to introduce a Republican senator who’s speaking in support of a Republican candidate. It seems real natural to me.”
Simmons points out that Murphy’s primary opponent, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, also appeared on the show to support her party’s candidate despite running an aggressive campaign against him.
This year’s Republican primary between Shays and McMahon was especially contentious. Shays at one point told the New Haven Register that he wouldn’t support her and that he’s never respected a political opponent less.
Unlike Simmons, who stood at the podium and introduced McCain, Shays did not play a role in the rally. But he did appear in the crowd of supporters.
When asked after the event if McMahon’s campaign asked him to attend, Shays said “indirectly” and offered a confusing explanation.
“Indirectly her campaign said ‘would Chris?’ I had one or two people — so the answer to your question is I felt welcome, if that’s what you mean,” Shays said.
During the primary race, Shays also questioned whether McMahon was qualified to serve in the Senate based on her experience running World Wrestling Entertainment. Asked Monday if he still had concerns about her qualifications, Shays answered that she was the candidate.
“I think she’s the candidate and I think that Chris Murphy is incredibly vulnerable and I think — and I did not think this [before the primary] — but I think she can win this race,” Shays said.
For the Murphy camp, McCain’s visit played into their narrative of the previous week which highlighted McMahon’s remarks in April when she suggested she would consider a proposal to “sunset” Social Security. McCain has suggested Social Security will need to be privatized to stay solvent.
“Considering Linda McMahon’s extreme policies to end Social Security and privatize Medicare, it’s no surprise that she’s decided to campaign with someone who thinks it’s just a matter of time until Congress privatizes Social Security,” Murphy spokesman Eli Zupnick said in a statement.
McCain was asked before the rally about his position on Social Security.
“My concerns about Social Security are that it’s going broke. We have to fix it just like we fixed once before when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill got together . . . Yes, we have to sit down and I’m sure that Linda will, all of us together, and fix Social Security,” McCain said.
But Social Security wasn’t a big concern for 64-year-old Army veteran Tim Winkler. Though he was at the McMahon rally, Winkler said he was technically still an “undecided” in the Senate race.
“My mind’s not totally made up but I’m more inclined to vote for her than I am Murph The Surf,” Winkler said, referring to Murphy. “He’s a slick one.”