In the culmination of one of the most closely-watched and controversial races in the country, Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy defeated Republican candidate Linda McMahon for Connecticut’s junior United States Senate seat in Tuesday’s national election.
As of press time, Murphy was reported to have received 54 percent of the vote, compared to McMahon’s 45 percent. New Haven’s electorate strongly swung in Murphy’s favor, with 86 percent of voters casting their ballots for Murphy compared to 14 percent for McMahon. The race garnered media attention nationwide as one of a handful of senatorial contests that together would determine whether the Senate remains in Democratic hands. The outgoing incumbent, Senator Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, was one of two independents in the Senate, leaving his vacated seat a potential prize for both parties.
The race also drew attention for shattering former campaign financing records. McMahon, who already lost a bid for the Senate in 2010, heavily outspent her opponent and committed at least $43.9 million of her own personal net worth to her campaign, according to campaign finance reports. Combined with her failed bid in 2010, McMahon has spent close to $100 million of her own wealth — shattering the record for the largest personal sum a candidate has ever spent for a political seat. The previous record was held by former Ross Perot, who spent a total of $72 million running for president in 1992 and 1996.
When Murphy took the stage around 10:20 p.m. in the ballroom of Hartford’s Hilton Hotel to deliver his acceptance speech, he thanked those involved in his campaign and promised he would fight for the idea that middle-class Americans “who work hard and play fair deserve a chance to make it.” Flanked by a number of senior Connecticut politicians including Attorney General George Jepsen, Governor Dannel Malloy and Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, Murphy added, “Tonight, we proved that we do not have auctions, but elections in this country.”
Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon in 2010 to win his seat, saw many parallels between his victory and Murphy’s.
“We both faced $50 million ‘negative attack-planned campaign[s],’ and her game plan involved never letting people know where exactly she stood on the issues,” he said in an interview with the News at Murphy’s victory rally. He added that McMahon was not committed to preserving Medicare and Social Security, bringing the troops home from Afghanistan or fighting for women’s rights.
As McMahon delivered her concession speech from the stage at the main ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Stamford, the audience booed when the former wrestling magnate said she had called Murphy to offer her congratulations and ask him to “continue to work hard for the people in our state.”
“I look back on this campaign with no regrets,” McMahon said. “I don’t think we left a stone unturned, I don’t think we would have done anything differently in the campaign. It was an incredibly well-run, hard-fought race.”
The crowd jumped on their feet and erupted in cheers of “Linda Governor” when the Republican candidate reminded her supporters that “it is our responsibility to charge, challenge and make sure [Washington] hears what we have to say and they work for us.”
Dean Yalanis, a volunteer for McMahon’s campaign in West Hartford, said Murphy’s win comes as no surprise, as “Connecticut is a largely Democratic state.”
“That said, I believe Linda was the right candidate and I know she would have helped people,” Yalanis added.
Steven Mullins, a justice of the peace from West Haven, said he was disappointed by the results of the race.
“I don’t think the most capable and qualified candidate won, but I’m wishing for the best,” he said.
While elated by his victory, no one who attended Murphy’s rally was surprised at the outcome. “I wasn’t surprised [Murphy] won in a landslide,” said Matthew Hopkins, a police officer in Hartford, adding that McMahon’s “horrendous” commercials backfired and revealed her inability to connect with most people. Allan Marks, a representative for District 8 in Fairfield, said that “Murphy is down to earth and smart — somebody I could relate to.”
McMahon received voter disapproval for campaign tactics like the door hangers that were distributed encouraging voters to vote for her and Obama.
“The trickery that she supports Obama is unethical,” said Lois Santiago, a retiree who used to work in the office of Chris Dodd.
Even McMahon supporters voiced their dissent against McMahon’s split-ticket advertisement tactics.
Shannon Burkle, a Middletown resident and McMahon supporter, said she did not approve of the campaign’s tactics to deploy such advertisements tying McMahon to U.S. President Barack Obama.
“People should vote Linda for her policies, not because she supports Obama,” Burkle said.
Of roughly 40 people interviewed by the News at different polling locations across the city, all predicted Murphy would win.
“Linda might be tough, but not tough enough to take on Washington,” Alberta Witherspoon, a New Haven resident and Murphy supporter, said Tuesday afternoon.
Preliminary figures indicate that Murphy did especially well in New Haven and with the Yale student body, taking 85 percent of the 1,300 student votes in Ward 1 alone, according to the Yale College Democrats. Two of the polling locations visited by Yale students — the New Haven Free Public Library and the Wexler-Grant School — saw “solid lines” starting as early as 6 a.m., said Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12.
Around 5 p.m., the line around the New Haven Public Library was over an hour long, snaking around the corner and doubling up inside the building. Eidelson attributed the strong student turnout at the polls to Murphy’s efforts to “mobilize college students” across Connecticut.
“This race is really about the values we want our government to operate on, whether it’s college grants, jobs, or women’s right to control their body,” she said.
At 39, Murphy will be the youngest senator in Congress.