The resounding primary victories by
The fight begins in earnest Wednesday. McMahon, the Republican multimillionaire founder and former CEO of the wrestling empire known as
"Come September, there's going to be a big flood of TV ads,'' predicted William Salka, a professor of political science at
The seat has been held by U.S. Sen.
There's more at stake than the personal ambitions of either Murphy or McMahon, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 and lost to Democrat
Connecticut's blue state leanings give Murphy an edge, said Salka, who is not affiliated with either party. But, he added, McMahon's vast fortune — she has invested at least $63 million of her own money since entering the political sphere in 2009 — and her effort to reach out to women voters could make the race far more competitive than Washington prognosticators are forecasting.
Unlike Blumenthal, Murphy has never run statewide and remains an unknown to many voters. A
This has given the McMahon campaign the opportunity to define its opponent, an effort that began well before the primary. For the past few weeks, McMahon has been airing attack ads that paint Murphy as a legislative back-bencher who has accomplished little in Congress, a Washington insider detached from the everyday concerns of Connecticut citizens, and a career politician who doesn't know the first thing about creating jobs and doesn't even have a "jobs plan."
"We've assumed for some time that Chris Murphy was going to be the opponent,'' said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the McMahon campaign. "He has spent his entire adult life in elective office and has taken some positions that we frankly feel are wrong for Connecticut, and we intend to be talking about those."
The Murphy campaign aims to keep the discussion squarely on McMahon's record at WWE, the
"Linda McMahon is running what is essentially a marketing campaign trying to trick voters into thinking she's something she's not,'' Murphy spokesman Ben Marter said. "It's all smoke and mirrors. She likes to talk about her business experience, but if the country was run the way Linda McMahon ran the wrestling industry, we're in deep trouble."
Marter said the Democrats intend to contrast Murphy's efforts in Congress to promote U.S. manufacturing jobs with the fact that most WWE-licensed toys are made overseas. And they will highlight WWE's decision to classify many of its performers as "independent contractors," which means the company does not have to provide health coverage and other benefits. McMahon has said U.S. policy is not conducive to manufacturing, and she has defended her company's treatment of both its employees and independent contractors.
The contrast between Murphy and McMahon, Marter said, "couldn't be any clearer."
On that point, McMahon's team agrees.
"We're running against a professional politician,'' McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss said. "Our opponent has never worked for a small business or in the private sector ... the choice couldn't be any clearer.''
McMahon's business background and outsider status is what drew state Rep. Bill Wadsworth of Farmington to her corner.
"I tend to look at the people who have served in Washington as part of the problem,'' said Wadsworth, a Republican who represents Farmington. "Linda's a fresh face; she hasn't been part of that."
Wadsworth came to McMahon headquarters along Route 4 Monday evening. The campaign was holding an ice cream social on the eve of the primary, but it was clear McMahon was focused on November.
"I tell you, what I hear from folks [is that] they want someone who's not part of the Washington establishment,'' McMahon said, pausing between shaking hands with voters and posing for pictures. "We need a diversity of people in Washington, but what we have the fewest of are businesspeople."
McMahon spent more than $50 million telling her story in 2010. This time, she is refining her image, courting women voters and focusing almost exclusively on jobs. Bliss called her jobs plan "the centerpiece of our campaign."
"Linda McMahon essentially bought the primary; now she's trying to buy the general election,'' said Mike Pohl, chairman of the Manchester Democratic Town Committee. Dressed in a bright red "Chris Murphy for Senate" T-shirt, Pohl paused every few seconds to glance at his buzzing phone. He just put out a robocall reminding Democrats to vote and was bracing for a flood of calls back.
The night before, Murphy held a rally here with Blumenthal, who beat McMahon by 12 percentage points in 2010. Dusting off his trademark line from that campaign, Blumenthal told the cheering crowd that it was "an election, not an auction,'' a swipe at McMahon's millions.
"Linda McMahon has already started blasting the airwaves with false attack ads against Chris Murphy, but they won't work,'' said Geoff Luxenberg, a Democratic state representative from Manchester who is volunteering on Murphy's campaign. "People in Connecticut know their votes are not for sale."