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Hartford — East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica captured the state Republican Party’s endorsement on Friday for the 2nd Congressional District as former professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon handily won her second U.S. Senate nomination.
Formica, who aims to unseat Democratic incumbent Joe Courtney, won on the first ballot in the afternoon, receiving 181 of the 306 delegate votes cast, or 59 percent.
Daria Novak of Madison got 101 votes, or 33 percent. And Doug Dubitsky of North Windham, a farmer and lawyer, got 25 votes, or 8 percent.
During the evening portion of the GOP’s daylong nominating event, McMahon beat former congressman Christopher Shays by a nearly two-to-one margin to clinch the endorsement for the seat of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is retiring.
McMahon received 730 votes to Shays’ 389 in the final tally, announced just before 11:30 p.m. in an emptying banquet hall at a downtown Hartford convention center. Some delegates switched their votes at the end of the first round, although not enough to be a factor in the outcome.
Of the other three candidates in race, Brian K. Hill of Hartford received 62 votes, Peter Lumaj of Fairfield received 22 and Kie Westby of Southbury received five votes.
Shays, who did not expect to win the convention, said he is eager to challenge McMahon in the Aug. 14 primary.
The Democrats in the Senate race are 5th District Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. Although Murphy won last weekend’s Democratic convention, Bysiewicz received enough delegate votes to also force a primary.
A joyful McMahon stood with her family on the convention floor as they awaited the final tally Friday night. At her side were her mother, Evelyn Carson; her husband, Vince; son, Shane; daughter, Stephanie McMahon Levesque and her towering husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, a professional wrestler.
Undeterred by a lengthy delay in the official vote count, McMahon marched ahead, grabbed a floor microphone and delivered an acceptance speech that thanked supporters and called on all Republicans to unite around her.
“The way that we’re going to [beat] Chris Murphy in November is with a solid Republican base, we’re going to bring affiliates, we’re also going to bring Democrats, and we’re going to take this seat,” McMahon said. “We’re also going to send the first female senator to Washington in the history of Connecticut.”
With that, her supporters began to chant “Linda, Linda.”
In a brief interview on the convention floor, Shays said the delegate count bears little connection to the dynamics of a primary.
“This has nothing to do with the standing out there,” he said of the primary vote. “We’re going to do very well.”
Shays supporters often point to a March Quinnipiac University poll that showed the former congressman neck-and-neck with Murphy in a potential November match-up.
State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, was the first on Friday to nominate Shays. McKinney’s father, Stewart McKinney, represented the 4th Congressional District until his death in 1987, the year Shays won the seat in a special election. He held the seat until 2008, when he lost to Democrat Jim Himes.
“As congressmen, no one was more in touch with their constituents and no one worked harder than Chris Shays,” McKinney said. “Chris Shays has proven he can balance the federal budget and get our country moving in the right direction. He did it once and he can do it again.”
McMahon had her own team of enthusiastic fans.
“There are some who say that women simply would not vote for Linda McMahon,” said Kathy McShane of New Canaan, head of the group “Women for Linda.” “I’m here to tell you that is not true.”
For Formica, who first announced his candidacy Sunday after Norwich state Rep. Chris Coutu withdrew to run instead for state Senate, it was an energizing victory. The banquet room of 2nd District delegates erupted in cheers and applause, and the three-term first selectman was soon shaking hands and exchanging hugs.
“I’m absolutely shocked,” Formica said. “We got in this five days ago to provide a choice. We talked about fiscal responsibility and experience and electability, and that’s what the people wanted who are in this room.”
But his fight has only begun. The second-place Novak said she intends to force an Aug. 14 primary match-up. Novak won the 2010 GOP nomination for Courtney’s seat, only to lose in that year’s primary against former newscaster Janet Peckinpaugh.
Peckinpaugh later lost the general election to Courtney, 38 percent to his 59 percent.
“Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot,” Novak said. “Let’s get the support behind me because I am the strongest candidate and the most well-known in the district.”
Formica’s modest lead over Novak grew substantially during the point in the balloting when delegates can switch votes. Once Dubitsky released his delegates, dozens came over to Formica’s side.
Formica credited his nomination victory to a lot of hustle and his motivated cracker-jack team of young supporters. His campaign manager, John Kleinhans, graduated from college just a year ago.
“We made phone calls, we traveled the districts, we visited the towns and town committees and did what we could to get our name out,” Formica said. “Now we have the hard work to do.”
East Lyme Selectwoman Holly Cheeseman was the first to nominate Formica for the endorsement Friday.
“He is (a) three-time incumbent first selectman, elected by overwhelming margins each time in a heavily Democratic town,” said Cheeseman, a candidate for the 37th state House District. “We need a candidate with a proven ability to win elections and win over Democrats and independent voters.”
State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. later introduced Formica to the full convention crowd.
“I’m sure Paul would agree, it’s been a very long five days,” he said.
During a video introduction that evening, McMahon portrayed herself as a political outsider with the business acumen necessary for creating jobs and turning around the economy.
“To change Washington, let’s really change the kind of people we send there,” she said.
McMahon received her first GOP endorsement for U.S. Senate in 2010 over Rob Simmons of Stonington, the former 2nd Congressional District representative. The tally that year was 737 for McMahon and 632 for Simmons, although the nomination race was initially much closer until dozens of delegates switched their votes to McMahon’s side, as allowed by convention rules.
McMahon later beat Simmons in the primary, and spent more than $50 million of her WWE fortune in the campaign that year before losing to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the general election by 12 percentage points.