STORRS — Among the post-election topics analyzed by a panel of UConn political science professors Wednesday was how well Linda McMahon was served by the consultants she paid and the millions she dropped into this year’s U.S. Senate race.
McMahon, an independently wealthy former wrestling executive, loaned close to $100 million of her own money to fund back-to-back, unsuccessful bids for a U.S. Senate seat.
“I’d suspect that Linda McMahon is wondering now if some of the consultants that she hired took her for a ride and gave her advice that didn’t play out well,” Ronald Schurin, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, said.
Schurin was one of five professors who, on the day after the election, delved into the broader implications of the results in state and federal races. After the panel he said there’s evidence that self-funded candidates like McMahon, who have a lot of resources to spend, are sometimes convinced by the people they hire to spend more than what’s necessary.
“One would think that someone with broad business experience would be more immune,” he said. “She paid an awful lot compared to what she ended up getting.”
But her 2012 campaign was supposed to be different. When she announced her candidacy she said it would be a different campaign. One where she wouldn’t be spending as much of her own money and would be seeking donations in an effort to build grassroots support. It seemed to be working, but as the campaign wore on and the polls showed her opponent gaining ground, McMahon started spending like she did in 2010.
That’s not to say self-funded candidates can’t run effective campaigns. Schurin pointed to, among other people, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, a wealthy businessman, has spent an enormous amount of money on micro-targeted campaigning. Schurin said the strategy has been effective for him.
In McMahon’s case, Schurin said the candidate may have ended up spending more money on television commercials than what was wise. She also built her campaign into a massive operation with a huge staff.
“Linda McMahon campaigned as a job creator and she certainly was because she spent $100 million in her two races, much it of hiring people both distributing her literature, distributing her T-shirts and generally to work for her campaign,” he said during the forum.
One of the people she hired was an undergraduate UConn student in the audience, who identified herself as Catie.
“I actually worked for Linda McMahon and during the campaign I saw that a major focal point of her campaign was the economy and improving jobs and her five-point plan,” she said. Catie asked whether McMahon could have picked up more women voters if she had focused more on presenting herself as an independent woman.
Vincent Moscardelli, another professor on the panel, said that McMahon had done horribly among women in 2010 and needed to close the gender gap to win. He said she succeeded in making inroads with female voters up until around August.
“But two things happened. One, those gains kind of stalled in August. And second, even as she was picking up ground with women in terms of likability, it was never translated into votes,” Moscardelli said.
Schurin said McMahon’s “big problem” with women in both races was how she made her fortune in wrestling.
“If Linda McMahon had become a multi-millionaire in financial services or IT, she might of done somewhat better,” he said.
Moscardelli said he thought the distinction on women’s issues was sometimes overstated. Many women care about economic issues to a greater extent than they’re concerned about things like reproductive rights.
But in addition to women, McMahon needed to pick up some Democrats. The campaign expended resources trying to encourage voters planning to cast ballots for President Barack Obama to split their ballot and also vote for McMahon. Some Democrats did vote for McMahon, but it wasn’t nearly enough to secure a victory.
“I’m not sure she could have had enormous success by touting her independence. My old thought on that has always been, if one Democrat runs against another Democrat, a Democrat is going to win. So if what she was simply doing was saying, ‘I’ll behave like the Democrats,’ then why not just vote for Murphy if you like him on the other issues,” Moscardelli said.
Moscardelli compared McMahon’s efforts to win over Democrats to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s unsuccessful efforts to get re-elected in Massachusetts.
“The fact is, both Brown and McMahon were up, in many ways, against the same thing and that is they were trying to win as Republicans in a year in which there was a popular Democrat at the top of the ticket,” he said. “. . . I think at the end of the day it was just a really tall order for Linda McMahon.”
McMahon’s race demonstrates what an obstacle a Republican in Connecticut or Massachusetts faces, regardless of how much money they have to spend, he said.
Christine Sylvester, a political science professor who was in the audience, asked about the impact of Super PACs in this year’s election, even if it wasn’t tied to what she called “McMahon’s spectacular failure.”
Schurin and Moscardelli both agreed that the long-term impact of Super PACs remains to be seen, even if it appears that many of the candidates who saw heavy support from the groups lost this year.
“I think the fear will be that people will infer something from this election that the data don’t really bare out. We just don’t know yet. They’ll say ‘Oh look, Super PACs don’t matter.’ And then we’ll see after that,” Moscardelli said.