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Southington - Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive who spent $50 million of her own money in her first bid last year for a U.S. Senate seat, announced Tuesday that she will try again in 2012 and accept significant campaign donations this time.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am a proven job creator, and today I am announcing that I am a candidate for the United States Senate," McMahon, 62, a Republican, said from the shop floor of a small Southington manufacturing firm.
McMahon's announcement had been anticipated for months. She hopes to replace U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who is retiring when his six-year term ends.
Her main competitor for the Republican nomination is former U.S. Rep.Chris Shays, who used to represent Fairfield County. Democrats in the running are former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, and state Rep. William Tong of Stamford.
A Quinnipiac University poll last week found that McMahon would defeat Shays 50 percent to 35 percent in a probable August 2012 primary match-up. However, the same poll found both Murphy and Bysiewicz beating McMahon by substantial margins in the November 2012 general election.
Other Republicans in the race are Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy and Brian K. Hill, a Hartford attorney.
In her announcement speech this morning, McMahon, of Greenwich, described herself as a political outsider and fiscal conservative with a proven ability to create jobs - both major themes of her 2010 campaign.
A co-founder with her husband, Vince McMahon, of World Wrestling Entertainment, she drew on her biography of having started a business that now employs hundreds of people and is publicly traded.
And she recounted past struggles with financial adversity, such as the time she and her husband filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1970s and made do without health insurance.
"I know what our families are trying to do to survive every day," she said. "I've been there, and you never forget."
State Democrats came out with a strong, negative reaction to McMahon's latest bid.
Jacie Falkowski, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, accused the Republican candidate of trying to "rebrand herself" from "who she really is: A CEO who made millions by putting her profits before the health and safety of her employees and by marketing a product based on sex and violence to children."
McMahon won the GOP endorsement in 2010 over former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons of Stonington in the race to replace Chris Dodd, who did not seek re-election to the Senate. In the general election, she polled 43 percent of the vote to the 55 percent drawn by Richard Blumenthal, the longtime state attorney general.
Polls showed McMahon had significant difficulties appealing to women voters.
Chris Healy, the past chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, told reporters that McMahon's background as a successful executive and job creator should resonate more deeply with voters in this campaign, as the economy still languishes.
He said that McMahon "began to win women back" in the last stretches of her 2010 campaign, and he expects that she will do better with female voters in 2012.
McMahon took no media questions during her morning announcement at Coil Pro Machinery Inc., but sat down in the afternoon for one-on-one interviews. She told The Day she has been thinking about running again since she came in second last November.
She said that she will self-finance some of her 2012 campaign, but for the first time will launch a comprehensive fundraising effort.
Her first campaign was funded almost entirely from her own fortunes, although she did accept donations of up to $100. McMahon wouldn't say how much she is willing to spend from her own purse for her 2012 race. Yet she did say that she won't accept any donations from political action committees.
During her speech, McMahon criticized the rising national debt and the 2009 federal stimulus, which she called a failure, and said the federal government spends too much money. She said that uncertainties regarding future tax increases, mandates and federal liabilities are holding back the nation's economy and keeping unemployment high.
She said she will present a comprehensive plan for creating jobs in the coming weeks.
"There is no reason why the largest, richest economy cannot regain its strength and create jobs for every woman and man who wants to work," McMahon said.
A crowd of at least three dozen supporters cheered and applauded McMahon's announcement, particularly a line in her speech about how "the last thing we need to do is raise taxes in a recession."
State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, a popular figure among Connecticut's tea party supporters, said he was initially skeptical of McMahon's candidacy two years ago, "but what really turned me around was getting to know her."
"She's an intelligent woman, she is absolutely beholden to no one and she is completely sincere," he said.
Markley said he thinks McMahon's substantial war chest in 2010 was at times a "barrier" between her campaign and the voters, as the easy availability of advertising money may have de-emphasized on-the-ground campaigning and opportunities to glimpse the candidate's charisma.
Healy, the former GOP chairman, said he thinks McMahon will have a better shot in the 2012 general election because she won't be running against as skilled and visible a politician as Blumenthal. He said he attended the rally to support McMahon and had nothing bad to say about her chief opponent in the Republican primary.
"I think Shays is a great Americans and patriot, and I think if he wants to run, that's great," Healy said.
McMahon said in her speech that lower taxes, fewer regulations and a balanced budget are needed for businesses to hire. In an interview, she said she would support a constitutional amendment that would require the government to keep a balanced budget: "Don't you think it's common sense that you would have a balanced budget?"
The candidate did not lay out any special plan to increase her appeal among women voters, saying that women and men right now share many of the same concerns.
"The driving message still throughout our state is jobs and the economy," McMahon said.
The McMahon campaign headquarters have relocated to North Haven from West Hartford, the 2010 campaign site. Tom Scott, the former state senator, radio host and anti-state income tax crusader, signed on this summer as her campaign's political director.