When Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon saw a check mark placed next to her Democratic opponent Chris Murphy’s name early on election night, she knew her dreams of ever becoming one of Connecticut’s U.S. senators had been dashed.
For the second time in three years, McMahon lost the race to her Democratic opponent, despite having spent nearly $100 million of her personal fortune on the two campaigns combined. In doing so, she joined the likes of Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Ross Perot, multimillionaires who invested in their own political careers with little payoff. It remains unclear what McMahon — who ran World Wrestling Entertainment before her first Senate run against Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 in 2010 — will do next.
McMahon said in a Nov. 9 interview with Businessweek that much of her post-election efforts will be channeled into her family’s philanthropic work. Along with her husband, McMahon runs the Vince and Linda McMahon Family Foundation, which awards grants to projects and institutions across the country such as sports facilities and Sacred Heart University, where McMahon is a trustee.
In the same interview with Businessweek, she said she does not plan to pursue political office in the future.
“I don’t really anticipate running for public office again. I think I’ve given that a really good, strong shot,” McMahon told Businessweek. “Things can always change but it’s not something I anticipate right now.”
McMahon’s campaign could not be reached for comment.
Despite McMahon’s vow to steer clear of politics, speculation is arife over whether she will throw her hat into a different political arena over the next few years. Among the possibilities discussed by political observers are a gubernatorial run in 2014 against sitting Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy or a congressional challenge in the fourth congressional district against Democratic Congressman Jim Himes.
Connecticut has a long history of failed Senate candidates, typically Republicans, who emerged from the private sector to seek public office, flaunting their business credentials to make up for limited political resumes, said Sacred Heart University political science professor and Connecticut politics expert Gary Rose. After losing their respective bids, they typically fade from popular memory, a fate that has befallen previous senate candidates from Gary Franks in 1998 to Alan Schlesinger in 2006.
“They came out of the woodwork, presented their business credentials as well as their wallets — but most people, including the Republican Party, knew they were sacrificial lambs, anyway,” Rose said.
But Rose said he regards McMahon’s case as unique, as she ran for Connecticut’s senate seat not once but twice, bolstered by her own ability to spend without limitation. After two races, he said, Connecticut residents are more familiar with her credentials.
After McMahon’s first loss, Stamford Mayor Mike Pavia, a Republican, publically offered her an economic development position in his cabinet. He said that considering his own background in the business sector, he thinks McMahon would bring crucial “real world” experience to public office.
“She has created jobs and she has signed both sides of the paycheck, which is a revealing story,” Pavia told the News. “She has an understanding of what it takes to run a business and what it takes to work hard.”
When asked about speculation over a possible gubernatorial bid in 2014, he responded that the state “loves” female governors.
But even within Connecticut, the Republican Party seems to be split over whether it would support McMahon’s future involvement in politics. Last week, Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party Jerry Labriola said in an interview with Connecticut Public Radio that the “era of massive self-funders is over,” hinting that he would not throw his weight behind any more McMahon runs. He added that he had “deep” concerns about McMahon’s candidacy all along.
Labriola could not be reached for comment.
Jennifer Steen, a political science professor at Arizona State University and an author of a book about self-financed candidates, said that candidates who spend lavishly on their campaigns tend not to be trusted by voters. Moreover, she added that the overwhelming majority of self-financers do so because they are inexperienced in politics and trying to “leapfrog” the traditional routes to higher office.
“If you graduate from Yale, are you going to apply to be CEO of a company? No,” Steen said. “But McMahon didn’t have any other way to win.”
McMahon spent a combined $97 million of her personal fortune on her two Senate bids, shattering the previous personal spending record of $75 million by Ross Perot in his 1992 and 1996 bids for the presidency.