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Hartford — Beaming and triumphant, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy took the stage at a Hilton Hartford ballroom late Tuesday night to acknowledge the thunderous applause of supporters who helped him win a U.S. Senate seat in an often bitter campaign against Republican Linda McMahon.
Joined by friends and close family, a graceful and well-composed McMahon came on stage in the ballroom at the Stamford Hilton at about 10:15 p.m. to concede defeat to a crowd of cheering supporters. At 11 p.m., The Associated Press was reporting 332,256 votes for Murphy and 284,747 for McMahon.
The winner, standing in front of more than 20 members of his extended family and the state's Democratic royalty — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen — said his victory "proved that what matters most in life is the measure of your ideas, the measure of your determination and the measure of your friends and family, not the measure of your wallet."
McMahon, the Greenwich multimillionaire who poured nearly $100 million of her own money into back-to-back attempts to win a Senate seat, failed to shake Murphy's hold on union members and other pockets of traditional support in Connecticut's cities.
"This campaign was about ideas," Murphy said, "the idea that government can create good jobs, that manufacturing is not dead ... the idea we need to bring our men and women home from Afghanistan."
Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon in a U.S. Senate race two years ago, said Murphy had "something money can't buy. He had his family and people like you in this room."
"Tonight, we begin a new era with someone who will be my partner in fighting cuts to Social Security ... and fighting for a woman's right to choose," Blumenthal said. "We're going to be fighting to put Connecticut back to work — creating jobs and economic growth."
McMahon said she has no regrets about how she ran the race.
"I will repeat what Governor Rell had told me when I first started running. She said, 'You are going to love the people of Connecticut when you go out to meet them,' and I do, from the bottom of my heart," McMahon said. "I would really love to have won, but we gave it an incredibly, incredibly good fight.
"I don't think we left a stone unturned, I don't think we would have done anything differently in the campaign," she said.
Speaking with reporters afterward, McMahon dispelled speculation that she may be back in 2014 to challenge Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
"I do not have any plans to run for office again at this time," McMahon said. "I am not considering running for governor. I looked at that, and we had some really good candidates to run for governor. That's not an office that I'll be seeking."
McMahon also addressed whether the nearly $100 million she has spent campaigning was wasted.
"I got into this race because when I looked into the faces of my little grandchildren, I wanted to make sure that they had America's promise of opportunity, and I don't think that I could put a price on that."
McMahon thanked the crowd of supporters along with WWE employees and her husband, Vince, "who stood beside and behind me all the way through this."
Yet Vince McMahon, who rarely appeared at his wife's public events, happened to be off near the back of the crowded stage. The WWE ringmaster visibly blushed at the sudden attention.
"He's very shy — he doesn't want to come out," McMahon said, smiling.
Tuesday's vote count heralds a rough and costly failure for McMahon, who stepped down in late 2009 as CEO of Stamford-based WWE to declare herself a Senate candidate, her first go at elective office.
McMahon, who would have been Connecticut's first female senator, faced the inherent challenge of being a Republican candidate in a deep-blue state that hasn't sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Lowell P. Weicker Jr.'s 1982 re-election.
The 64-year-old Greenwich resident is now back where she was on election night two years ago — but with $42 million less to her purse.
Tuesday night concluded a strikingly bitter Senate contest in which both sides deployed a succession of attack ads against the other. But it was McMahon's mostly self-funded campaign that filled the majority of the television and radio campaign ads, including Spanish language channels.
Although McMahon endorsed Republican Mitt Romney for president, in the race's final stretch, she used TV ads, pamphlets and door-to-door canvassing to urge inner-city minorities in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport to vote for President Obama and then her under the Independent Party line.
"Good for Chris Murphy, good for Connecticut," Malloy said in a statement. "Tonight's victory by Chris shows that we have elections in Connecticut, not auctions. Chris is a smart, decent, thoughtful guy, and he's exactly the right kind of person to represent the people of Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. He knows that although we've begun to turn things around in Connecticut, choices that are made in Washington DC impact all of us. I'm confident that when it comes time to make those choices in the U.S. Senate, Chris will make the right ones for Connecticut."
Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also congratulated Murphy.
"This is a great night for Connecticut and for middle class Americans across the country. Chris Murphy went up against a mountain of money and beat an opponent who spent more than anyone else in history to win a seat in the U.S. Senate," he said.