Though the election is still 14 months away, the race to replace U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 continues to heat up.
And now a candidate whom Connecticut voters will remember well has returned. Linda McMahon, the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment who lost to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’70 last year, announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for the state’s other Senate seat on Tuesday. She joins a field that already includes Democrat Susan Bysiewicz ’83, the former secretary of the state and a veteran of Connecticut politics.
In a speech at the Coil Pro factory in Southington where she announced her candidacy, McMahon made clear she would have one priority should she be elected: fixing the economy.
“It seems that a good dose of common sense would go a long way,” McMahon said, adding that she plans to unveil a comprehensive jobs plan in coming weeks.
McMahon’s announcement comes days after a new poll from Quinnipiac University showed her trailing both of her likely Democratic rivals — Bysiewicz and U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy — by near-double-digit margins. The poll, which surveyed 1,230 registered Connecticut voters, showed Murphy ahead of McMahon 49 to 38 percent, and Bysiewicz ahead of McMahon, 46 percent to 38 percent.
But before she can face any Democrat, McMahon will likely have to fend off a primary challenge from former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays. The Quinnipiac poll shows McMahon ahead of Shays, 50 to 35 percent, but also shows Shays performing better in the general election, even running 2 percent ahead of Bysiewicz. Shays announced his candidacy in August, is expected to file the paperwork for a run in October.
On the Democratic side, Murphy leads Bysiewicz 36 to 26 percent in last week’s Quinnipiac poll. But both Bysiewicz and the poll’s director, Doug Schwartz, cautioned against calling the Democratic race for Murphy. Schwartz pointed out that 35 percent of Democrats remain undecided, and that in the coming months they could swing either way.
“The poll is a baseline,” he said. “It’s very early in the race. … They don’t need to panic, but the campaign is beginning now.”
And as the campaign begins, Schwartz said, it will be a race for Bysiewicz and Murphy to define themselves before McMahon and her bank account can start running attack ads. In the 2010 election, McMahon spent $50 million of her own money. In the year’s first two fundraising quarters, Bysiewicz raked in around $1 million, while Murphy won about $2 million. A third contender who was not included in the poll, State Rep. William Tong of Stamford, reported having around $550,000 on hand in July. The third quarter closes at the end of September, with totals announced a few weeks later.
In a Tuesday interview, Bysiewicz brushed off concerns about her campaign’s finances, pointing out that despite McMahon’s massive spending in 2010, she still lost to Blumenthal by a 10-point margin.
She added that two other self-financed candidates for statewide office lost in the 2010 election cycle — Ned Lamont SOM ’80, a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and Republican Tom Foley, who lost to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
“The voters are very discerning in a small state,” Bysiewicz said. “The voters in this state have already shown that they do not decide based on who puts out the most money from their own pocket.”
If Bysiewicz or McMahon is elected next November, she will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in Connecticut history.