Getting ready to rumble in Connecticut

In an age of YouTube moments and bare-knuckle politics, Linda McMahon isn’t the first candidate to provide her opposition with video clips that appear ready-made for a negative campaign ad.

But she’s probably the first to have those clips be of her kicking a man in the groin and on the business end of a Tombstone Piledriver.

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The now-former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO announced her candidacy for Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) seat on Wednesday to much fanfare in both the political and wrestling worlds. She will self-fund her campaign almost exclusively and, thanks to her billion-dollar business, could be one of the top self-funders in history.

But if you’re expecting Hulk Hogan or Randy “Macho Man” Savage when McMahon is on the stump, the slim 60-year-old wife of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon will disappoint you.

Though McMahon was occasionally involved in the storylines on TV, the wrestling was the product, and she focused more on the fact that she sold it so well.

“I’ve seen myself on camera, and I thought I’d better stick to my day job,” she said.

Still, she’s not afraid of the comparisons to some of the more colorful characters to run for and win statewide office, including former pro wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I).

“If you looked at Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, I think they transitioned well out of the world of entertainment into serving their constituencies very well,” McMahon said.

She has never run for office and has served only for a short time in an appointed position on the state Board of Election — a position she secured thanks to her support for Gov. Jodi Rell (R).

But nobody is discounting McMahon just yet. She has the ability to dominate the airwaves in her GOP primary with former Rep. Rob Simmons and former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, and she could instantly match up financially with Banking Committee Chairman Dodd.
Dodd was aware of the money that is staring him in the face, referencing reports that McMahon could spend $30 million on the race.

“She’s been in the office a few times with her husband,” Dodd told The Hill. “They’re very wealthy people, a lot of money — $30 million.”

McMahon declined to say how much she would spend on her campaign, saying she will “spend what it takes” to become known to the electorate. She also declined to estimate her net worth.

Self-funders have a poor history of getting elected, with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) being rare examples of the ultra-rich winning prominent positions.

Corzine spent more than $100 million this decade on races for Senate and then governor, winning both. Bloomberg spent more than that amount on his two runs for mayor.

“What is more often the case with the guys who go to town self-funding is that they have no other card to play,” said Jennifer Steen, a self-funding expert at Yale University. “It doesn’t necessarily make a difference if you’re in the stratosphere of self-funding.”

McMahon will attempt to break the cycle, and she’s in an inviting race. The incumbent is the most vulnerable man in the Senate, and the Republican primary is crowded enough that a non-traditional candidate could find a way through, especially as the only woman in the field.

“What I’m envisioning is a pretty fractious Republican primary, and that in itself favors someone like McMahon,” said Sacred Heart University political science Professor Gary Rose.
Ventura used a three-person field to shock the world with his 37 percent plurality win in Minnesota’s 1998 governor’s race.

He had the pro wrestling background and the outsider credentials, too, but unlike McMahon, he was poorly funded.

Another difference, though, was that Ventura had credibility as the former mayor of a Minneapolis suburb, noted Dane Smith, a 30-year former Minneapolis Star Tribune political reporter.

“It’s not like being the mayor of Wasilla; it’s a significant post,” said Smith, who now heads the liberal Growth and Justice think tank. “That took away a little of the fear factor about having such an outrageous showbiz character running for office.”

Ventura came on late in the governor’s race and took advantage of his opponents underestimating him.

McMahon, while on a learning curve, will have no such leisure.

“I think other candidates are taking her seriously, but you have to see where this thing goes,” said a neutral Connecticut GOP source. “Just like the WWE, when they are marketing, there are certain aspects they test-market. Campaigns are a little bit like that.”

Job No. 1 for McMahon is making sure she’s taken seriously.

And that’s when she starts sounding like a wrestler.

“I believe that once people get to know me, they’ll understand that I haven’t started anything that I don’t intend to finish,” McMahon said.

J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.