Published June 15. 2012 4:00AM
Linda McMahon looked good for her debate Thursday against Christopher Shays, her latest opponent for one of Connecticut's U.S. Senate seats.
She was wearing a trim two-piece suit in Teflon green, and every single scrap of mud thrown her way slid neatly off.
McMahon looked every bit as calm and collected by the end of the debate as she did at the beginning. She never veered from obviously scripted answers or shed a hint of sweat.
Shays looked every bit as testy, annoyed and frustrated at the end as when the debate started.
In fact, Shays threw a bit of a tantrum at the outset when there was a problem with the auditorium sound system at the University of Connecticut.
He snapped a terse "no" when offered a handheld microphone, saying everyone should just wait until the wireless microphones were fixed. Everyone did wait.
Then, once the debate was under way, the former congressman turned irritable again every time McMahon ducked one of his insults about her tenure as head of World Wrestling Entertainment, as if she were somehow approaching him with a WWE handheld microphone.
I think Shays is less bothered that someone who once produced raunchy television programming would get to serve in the U.S. Senate than he is annoyed to think someone who peddled TV trash would take a Senate seat he considers his due.
I thought I detected just a bit of a flutter in Shays' voice when he made mention, more than once, of how McMahon's husband once appeared on camera to tell a woman to strip off her clothes and bark like a dog.
I doubt he would have even noticed when the segment first aired. Now it seems to infuriate him.
Each time, Shays' insults about WWE trash slid right off the green suit.
McMahon did so much better in Thursday's debate that it makes you wonder why she isn't the one calling for more debates in the primary campaign, not Shays.
I went into the debate Thursday convinced Connecticut Republicans would be crazy to send McMahon, who spent $50 million losing her last bid for a Senate seat, up against Democratic frontrunner Chris Murphy.
After all, this election is going to revolve around the country's looming deficit and the range of miserable solutions, from cutting entitlements to raising taxes, or at least raising them on the very rich.
McMahon, a very rich candidate who refuses to talk about whether she would support cuts to Social Security and Medicare, seems like a terrible choice to debate these issues.
But on Thursday, she debuted her script for debating class warfare 2012, and she talked over and over again about her economic plan and its call for a middle-class tax cut.
As Shays said several times Thursday, McMahon was trained in the arena of make-believe. What he neglected to say is that she is very good at it.
Who cares that proposing further tax cuts is like yanking cords off a patient on life support?
McMahon makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world, honest, easy, a cure for what ails the country: Tax cuts for everyone. Never mind that none of it is real.
One clear difference between McMahon's debate performance against now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Thursday's is that she seems much more likeable.
Maybe because Blumenthal had earned a lot of trust with Connecticut voters, his attacks on McMahon seemed more credible and substantial.
Shays on Thursday just seemed kind of mean-spirited.
At the end, when the candidates were asked a series of inane personal questions - what book they are reading, their favorite restaurant - McMahon disclosed that her first car was a Dodge Dart.
Those were so ugly, Shays said.
The retort fell flat, like the rest of his attack, however reasonable it may have been.
This is the opinion of David Collins.