Democrats deride McMahon win

Laura Bush of Vernon, left, and Jackie Jamsheed of West Hartford cheer for Linda McMahon as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate prepared to speak to her supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell after winning the GOP primary Tuesday night.
Laura Bush of Vernon, left, and Jackie Jamsheed of West Hartford cheer for Linda McMahon as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate prepared to speak to her supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell after winning the GOP primary Tuesday night.

East Hartford - Democratic Senate hopeful Richard Blumenthal was intent on staying on message as he visited a union hall across from the aircraft manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, but a key adviser was happy to field a question about his opponent.

Did it matter that Linda McMahon, facing two intraparty rivals, had been unable to win more than 50 percent of the vote in winning the Republican primary Tuesday?

For Democrats, like Blumenthal adviser Marla Romash, the answer is a resounding "yes."

"Her percentage last night was pathetic," Romash said of McMahon. "She spent $21 million and ran against two candidates who barely campaigned. And that shows you that there's something that's holding people back from supporting her."

This is the message Democrats were pushing from just minutes after polls closed on Tuesday night, when McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, handily beat challengers Rob Simmons and Peter Schiff for the right to take on Blumenthal in November.

Nancy DiNardo, the chairwoman of Connecticut Democrats, released a statement Tuesday night that called McMahon's performance "pathetic," too. In fact, the statement matched what Romash would say the next afternoon at the hall of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1746, almost to the word.

And Democrats are hoping lingering bitterness among Republicans, such as those who were loyal to Simmons or turned off by the programming or the steroid scandals that have touched the WWE, will help divide a party that is hoping to unify to overcome Blumenthal and seize a U.S. Senate seat.

"For all the conversation we're having about what goes on inside the ring," Romash said, referring to McMahon's family business, "she has some problems outside the ring as well."

But McMahon's campaign, and some political experts, aren't so sure; McMahon took 49 percent of the Republican vote, compared to 28 percent for Simmons and 23 percent for Schiff.

In another high-profile, three-way Republican primary, Tom Foley also prevailed without a majority of the votes cast, winning 42 percent compared to 38 percent for Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and 18 percent for R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel.

"In a three-way race, getting about half the vote is a reasonably good showing," said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"In general, people who vote in party primaries are the most dedicated, 'party base' voters, and a large percentage of those who vote for another primary candidate get over their unhappiness and vote for the party nominee by November - no matter what they may say in August," Sabato said. "Of course, it isn't unanimous, and in a very close race defections can make the difference between winning and losing."

A spokesman for McMahon, Ed Patru, agreed.

"It's a three-way race, and to win with just a hair under 50 percent, by the margin that she did - I think there's no question that the support that she had among Republicans was decisive," Patru said.

Simmons and Schiff both called McMahon to concede and offer their support for the Republican ticket, he noted.

Still, Simmons faced questions about Schiff as he conceded Tuesday night: Could the candidate have been a spoiler, siphoning votes that might have helped him stage a comeback against McMahon?

"That's possible," Simmons said. "But that's the way it is. You have to deal with the cards that you're dealt.

"I talked with him several times about how committed he was to staying in the race," Simmons added, "and he had the same conversation with me. And we weren't able to resolve it, so we both went forward knowing that the outcome might be affected, but nonetheless politics is about choices, and there are people who would choose him that wouldn't choose me just as there are those that would choose me and not Mrs. McMahon."

Sabato said he didn't think Schiff had denied Simmons a victory since many of his voters might have gone to McMahon instead.

"I can't say for sure what the Schiff voters would have done, but it is highly unlikely they would have voted en masse for Simmons," he said. "Enough would have voted for McMahon to make her the nominee."

t.mann@theday.com

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon talks with Jay Garbero during a campaign stop at a North Haven diner on Wednesday. McMahon emerged victorious in a three-way primary battle for the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd and will face Democratic nominee Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in November.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon talks with Jay Garbero during a campaign stop at a North Haven diner on Wednesday. McMahon emerged victorious in a three-way primary battle for the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd and will face Democratic nominee Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in November.

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