Connecticut voters again proved money didn’t talk when they elected Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Murphy knocked out Republican Linda McMahon by large margins according to the Associated Press’ exit polls, roughly 55 to 43 percent.
The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, McMahon spent close to $100 million on back-to-back U.S. Senate campaigns. But it wasn’t enough to win the support of voters, especially among women.
“Tonight we proved that what matters most in life is the measure of your ideas, the measure of your determination, the measure of your friends, not the measure of your wallet,” Murphy said as he took the stage at the Hartford Hilton shortly before 10 p.m.
Polls showed the race was neck-and-neck shortly after the August primary. McMahon had begun to make in-roads with women and independent voters, but things boomeranged on her as November approached. Still, Murphy was cautious in his optimism Tuesday before the polls closed.
McMahon’s millions had defined Murphy early in the race and polls had them within one percentage point of each other up until mid-October.
Murphy raised just over $9 million and was outspent almost 5-to-1 by McMahon. There was evidence the message McMahon was promoting may have gotten through to voters, but Murphy’s friends in the Democratic Party were able to boost his media buys by about $11 million in PAC money. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee also lent Murphy a few staff members.
“It shows that money can’t buy votes,” Beverly Brakeman, political director for the United Auto Workers, said as she waited for Murphy to take the stage at the Hartford Hilton.
John Olsen, president of the AFL-CIO, also was on hand to congratulate Murphy. He was one of many union members in attendance.
Olsen said McMahon’s urban strategy backfired because Connecticut voters are too smart for that.
McMahon hired lawyers and dozens of people in urban areas to reassure voters it was okay to split their ticket between her and President Barack Obama. McMahon employees were even wearing purple T-shirts on Tuesday encouraging voters in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport to split their ticket. The colors matched those of SEIU, a union that’s been highly visible in Connecticut.
No one seemed happier about Murphy’s victory than U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal who defeated McMahon by about 12 points in 2010.
“I think I can say I am the second happiest guy,” Blumenthal joked. “I am so proud of Chris Murphy and his family for withstanding, again, a $50 million attack machine.”
He said it proves that in Connecticut “we have elections, not auctions.”
The enthusiastic crowd at the Hartford Hilton proved a stark comparison to the mood at the Stamford Hilton where McMahon’s supporters were gathered.
When Fox News broadcast that McMahon had lost the race at around 8:40 p.m. hundreds of supporters were milling about the room, most of them were seated. They barely appeared to react to the news.
Tyler Shubert, a Greenwich McMahon supporter who works in finance, credited McMahon’s operation for running a strong campaign.
“It’s always an uphill battle in a state like Connecticut,” he said.
Shubert said he felt that McMahon had done a good job getting her message out to voters. She also succeeded in dispatching some of the things that had been a distraction during her first campaign and was able to run a race based on her policies.
“I think she got past some of the more surface stuff in terms of people’s distaste for the WWE and things like that,” he said. “. . . On balance the people of Connecticut wanted to go in a different direction if the results stand.”
At the time Shubert made his comments, The AP was calling the race for Murphy with only 7 percent of the results in. He said he’d been thinking about McMahon’s future if the election didn’t go in her favor. He said he would like to see her run for another office, but said it’s hard to consider running for a less prominent office after running for U.S. Senate.
“It’s hard to step back. The Senate is the pinnacle in terms of statewide elected office,” Shubert said. “Whatever she decides to do, she would be of great value to the state of Connecticut.”
Shubert said that after four years of campaigning and running TV ads, McMahon already has established her name recognition if she chooses to run for something else.
In her concession speech, McMahon told supporters she had called Murphy to congratulate him and to urge him to make responsible decisions as a senator. She told the somewhat rowdy crowd to quiet down and listen to her as she urged them to hold the people recently elected to Congress accountable for their actions. They work for us, she said.
“And if we let them forget that, shame on us,” McMahon said. “I look forward to being helpful in that regard.”
But speaking to reporters as she shook hands with supporters, McMahon would not say whether she plans to seek elected office in the future. She said she would take a day or two to think about and maybe take a vacation.
“I’m going to give it some thought as to what I’m going to be doing. I haven’t made any decisions yet,” she said.
McMahon suggested she would likely continue doing philanthropic work. And despite a few “McMahon for governor!” calls from the crowd, McMahon said a gubernatorial run wasn’t likely in her future.
“I’m not considering running for governor,” she said. “I looked at that and, well we have a really good candidate to run for governor who’s not in office.”
And though she concluded her remarks to supporters with a “see you soon,” in a small exchange with an enthusiastic supporter she gave an indication she may not be looking to run for office again. As McMahon was talking to reporters one woman made her way through the throng of media to tell McMahon to run for office again.
“I want to help,” the woman said.
“You help the next person as hard as you helped for me,” McMahon answered.