I’ve spent months hammering at the glossed-over business record of Linda McMahon, the Meg Whitman of Connecticut. McMahon, wife of World Wrestling Entertainment kingpin Vince McMahon, is the former CEO of WWE who is running strong for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat Chris Dodd is vacating. The McMahons are spending up to $50 million of their nearly billion-dollar junk-entertainment family fortune to buy the seat, and they may just succeed.
If they do, it will be time for a word from our sponsor: P.T. Barnum, the 19th century Connecticut circus entrepreneur who, as a politician, proved quite a bit more progressive and effective than expected. After profiting from minstrel shows, Barnum in the state legislature was, first an abolitionist and, later, a fiercely benign advocate of improved post-Civil War race relations. As mayor of Bridgeport, he was credited with modernizing the water-supply system.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m frightened by the prospect of Senator Linda McMahon on the basis of her background in running an unbelievably sleazy death mill. Almost as scary are the pro wrestling-honed market-research tactics that have her campaign humming and political operatives drooling. These include the state Republican Party chairman, Chris Healy, whose wife, Suzan Bibisi, is pulling down six figures for a job on McMahon’s bloated campaign staff that involves, according to insiders, something between nothing and next-to-nothing.
But to extend the Barnum analogy, money can’t buy voter love – as Al Checchi learned when he tried for the California governorship and as Whitman may learn in November against Jerry Brown. Wherever Linda McMahon is striking a true chord, it tells us scads about the sorry state of American politics in this year of Scott Brown and the Obama backlash.
One hint of Good Linda came this week when Rick Green, a columnist for the Hartford Courant, solicited the candidates’ views on a $13 billion federal jobs bill that the Democrats got passed with the help of five moderate Republican senators, including Scott Brown, the new occupant of the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat. McMahon told Green that she would have broken party ranks along with the Brown Five. McMahon’s main Republican opponent in Connecticut, former Congressman Rob Simmons, said he would not have, because the bill included “a flawed payroll tax scheme.”
This position is one of several that have brought Simmons, an erstwhile patrician New England Republican, under criticism for losing sight of who he was. Another Connecticut columnist, Keith Burris, wrote that Simmons “spent a career defining himself as John Chafee and now seems to be channeling Everett Dirksen.” And that, in turn, fuels the suspicion that McMahon’s bald-faced purchase of a Senate seat might be preferable to being owned by decades of ossified partisan convention.
Whoever wins Connecticut’s Republican Senate primary in August (the likely consequence of a state party convention in May that probably will endorse Simmons but not eliminate McMahon), I give that nominee a better chance against Dodd’s anointed Democratic successor, long-time attorney general Richard Blumental, than I give Mommy Warbucks Whitman against our own Brown. Unlike Blumenthal, the old warhorse Jerry Brown has reinvented himself over the course of a long career in jobs requiring dirt under his fingernails, such as Mayor of Oakland. Brown has intellectual as well as political agility, which leads to the gumption to stake out independent positions, the sine qua non of Campaign ’10.
Teflon Linda is definitely on a nice run. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, a belligerent but inept panelist challenged her on drugs and death in wrestling while everyone else chortled. The “it’s-only-wrestling” premise also underlay a once-over-lightly profile of her in The Washington Post, which seems bent on aping big brother New York Times’ historically shallow McMahon coverage.
In the end, it will be up to Connecticut journalists themselves to tell voters who Linda McMahon is and what she really represents. I’m headed to the Nutmeg State the last week of March – WrestleMania hype week – to promote my book CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, and to lend a helping hand to my fellow ink-stained wretches there.Archive