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Wrestling and Fighting Bog Down Final Days of CT Senate Race

Friday, October 29, 2010

It’s tough to avoid the temptation to use wrestling metaphors when reporting on the U.S. Senate race between former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon and her Democratic opponent Richard Blumenthal.

Somehow the legal metaphors inspired by Blumenthal’s record as the state’s attorney general just aren’t as compelling.

But as hard as we reporters may try to avoid using wrestling clichés, the narrative of the campaign is making it difficult.  And it’s not just because of the obvious two-opponents-violently-facing-off motif (do boxers-turned-politicians have this problem, too?). Wrestling, WWE style, as McMahon has so frequently pointed out in her campaign ads, is a “soap opera.” And so is this race. It has the aggressive character attacks, the conflicts over wealth and power, and everyone’s calling each other a liar.

But part of the reason it’s so hard to separate the WWE from the race metaphorically is that it’s so present literally in both campaigns.

From the start, McMahon introduced herself to the state as a businesswoman who nurtured a tiny company into a multi-national corporation that’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange. She bragged about WWE having come back from bankruptcy. And she says that as a CEO, she understands how to create jobs.

Blumenthal has criticized McMahon and the WWE, but mostly left it up to the state Democratic party to go on the attack. They’ve hit the WWE for classifying the wrestling performers as independent contractors – an issue that’s now being investigated by the state’s Department of Labor. They’ve targeted WWE’s content by circulating videos that include McMahon’s husband, Vince, berating a woman in the ring, and launched a group called Mothers Opposing McMahon.

As a result of attacks, WWE launched a self-defense campaign called “Stand Up for WWE,” featuring videos of Vince McMahon, company employees, wrestlers, and posts from fans. WWE happens to have a performance scheduled in Bridgeport on election night (they say it’s a coincidence – they schedule shows up to two years in advance) and another one the Saturday before the election. (That one is a fan appreciation “super show” featuring a rare meeting of the stars of both of their two big franchises “Raw” and “Smackdown,” with ticket prices maxing out at $20). They’re even planning on handing out WWE merchandise at the polls. They’ve also released a series of TV ads defending themselves. The first of those featured an image of Linda McMahon, which sparked a complaint to the Federal Election Commission by the state Democratic party.

The Republicans filed their own complaint with the Federal Election Commission as a result of an email that Politico published, which suggests that the Blumenthal campaign coordinated with Planned Parenthod to distribute misogynistic WWE photos.

(Now there’s another Republican complaint to the FEC that has nothing to do with the WWE. McMahon has lent $46 million to her own campaign, but in the Blumenthal family, it’s his wife who has the big money. The Republicans say the $2.25 million Blumenthal has lent to his campaign is more than he’s worth, so his wife must have contributed more than she’s legally allowed.)

The latest example of the WWE as a proxy for the McMahon campaign came as a result of some vague comments by Connecticut’s Secretary of the State, Susan Bysiewicz, about whether it was legal to wear WWE-themed t-shirts to polling places. Her initial comments left the impression that voters could be barred from the polls for exercising their constitutional rights while wearing their favorite Stone Cold Steve Austin tank top. That sparked yet another Vince McMahon video, followed by a lawsuit against the Secretary of the State. (She would have been defended in this matter by the state’s Attorney General, but not surprisingly, Blumenthal quickly recused himself from the case, leaving it to his deputy.) Bysiewicz now says that’s not what she meant, and WWE has declared victory on the subject. A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that only clothing that solicits for or against a candidate or ballot question should be banned.

All of which may leave people asking the question: “What does any of this have to do with politics in Connecticut?” Good question. The answer is it’s all that many voters have to go on right now. Polls are showing Blumenthal with a 12-point lead with less than a week to go in the race. Perhaps the most staggering statistic in the Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday is that even though McMahon would be the first female Senator from Connecticut, Blumenthal leads with women, 61 percent to 35 percent.

So has McMahon’s killer piledriver to Blumenthal’s Vietnam record left him lying unresponsive on the mat? Can McMahon recover from the diving headbutt that has left her business record up against the ropes?  And which of the candidates has the stuff to get the economy out of the sleeper hold that’s been choking it for years? Tune in Tuesday for the no-holds-barred cage match that will leave only one candidate standing!

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