Published August 14. 2012 7:00PM Updated August 15. 2012 3:34PM
Stamford — Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon handily won her second Republican primary for the U.S Senate Tuesday as Congressman Chris Murphy triumphed in the Democratic race, clearing the stage for their November matchup.
Unofficial results from the Associated Press showed that with 94 percent of precincts reporting, McMahon had a 73 percent to 27 percent lead over her challenger, Christopher Shays, the former Fairfield County congressman and the last Republican to represent Connecticut in Washington.
Murphy beat Susan Bysiewicz, former secretary of the state, 67 percent to 33 percent, with 94 percent of precincts reporting.
The outcome in the two races was not a surprise, and generally followed the wide margins predicted in recent polls. Both Murphy and McMahon nabbed their respective party's endorsements at the spring conventions.
Whoever wins on Nov. 6 will pick up the Senate seat of Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat who is retiring after 24 years. If McMahon, 63, wins, she would be Connecticut's first woman Senator and the first Republican Senator since Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
McMahon celebrated her victory with several hundred loud supporters in a Hilton Stamford Hotel ballroom festooned with red, white and blue balloons. Finger food was free and plentiful, and there were three open bars.
"Let me say to all of my fellow Republicans here in Connecticut, thank you," McMahon said, standing beside her mother, Evelyn, and daughter, Stephanie.
Murphy spent the evening with his supporters at the Omni Hotel in New Haven. Guests included Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon in 2010.
"He'll be against a $50 million or more attack machine, like I was, but he will win with your support," Blumenthal said.
Murphy went on to thank his Democratic opponent, who spent the evening at the Mattabesett Canoe Club in her hometown of Middletown. Bysiewicz "ran a spirited campaign and sharpened our focus for November," Murphy said.
McMahon announced to her crowd that she had received a concession phone call from Shays.
"He congratulated me on the victory tonight. He said I would certainly have his vote," McMahon said. "And I told him that I have great respect for him, and that I would always hold him and his wife, Betsi, in high esteem."
Shays, 66, who represented Fairfield County's 4th Congressional District from 1987 through 2008, struggled against McMahon's better-financed campaign with its nine outreach offices and aggressive door-knocking and phone bank operations.
Although Shays picked up most newspapers' endorsements going into the primary, his campaign purse could support just one television spot while McMahon's ads filled the television and radio airwaves.
Bysiewicz, 50, trailed Murphy in both fundraising and endorsements for months. She also faced the unique challenges of overcoming a tumultuous 2010, when she retreated from the governor's race to go for state attorney general, only to have her candidacy disqualified by the state Supreme Court for lack of enough active practice experience.
McMahon is now back where she was two years ago: a Republican primary winner facing tough odds in the general election. The Greenwich resident won a three-way GOP primary in 2010 against Rob Simmons of Stonington and financier Peter Schiff, but lost by 12 percentage points in the November election to Blumenthal, the former attorney general.
Murphy, a resident of Cheshire, so far has led McMahon in every statewide poll and shows lower "negative" ratings among registered voters. He has never lost a primary or election race in his 39 years.
He won his 5th Congressional District seat in 2006, and prior to that served eight years in the General Assembly as both a state representative and state senator.
Murphy and McMahon have devoted more broadcast time in recent weeks to criticizing each other than their primary opponents. They stepped up their attacks Tuesday night.
In her victory speech, McMahon defined the Senate race as a test of who is better able to jumpstart the economy and create jobs. She portrayed herself as an independent-minded job creator, and her Democratic opponent as a "career politician" eager to raise taxes and impose regulations.
"We can start by giving all the career poltiicans who got us into this mess a pink slip," McMahon said. "We can't keep sending people like Chris Murphy, who made the mess in Washington, back to clean it up. He's had his chance. He's been there six years, what do we have? More spending, more debt and higher unemployment."
In Murphy's remarks, he presented a clear distinction between himself and his multimillionaire opponent. He highlighted his middle class background and said he is committed to helping the middle class.
He said he will gladly put his career as a legislator up against McMahon's years as a WWE executive.
Speaking later to reporter, Murphy said his large margin of victory shows "Democrats from across the state are united to prevent Linda McMahon from buying this election."
McMahon has made efforts to soften her hard-driving business executive image since her 2010 Senate campaign and is trying to appeal to more women voters.
Her new campaign is emphasizing face-to-face contact with prospective voters and has spent $20 million less at this point in the race compared to 2010, when McMahon's self-financed expenditures reached $50 million. She stepped down as WWE's top executive three years ago.
The latest filing reports show McMahon loaning at least $12.5 million to her current campaign for Lieberman's seat. Murphy raised a total $5.6 million in contributions as of late July,
Tim Murtaugh, McMahon's campaign spokesman, said McMahon already has agreed to at least two debates with her Democratic opponent and intends to meet with newspaper editorial boards for interviews, something she avoided before the primary.