George Will / Oct. 28, 2010

Taking It to the Mat in Connecticut

GREENWICH, Conn. – It has been said that American politics and professional wrestling share a paucity of honest emotions. But Linda McMahon, who as CEO built World Wrestling Entertainment into a billion-dollar company, might think comparing wrestling to politics insults wrestling. As she seeks the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd, she says the honesty deficit concerns not emotions but facts.

GREENWICH, Conn. – It has been said that American politics and professional wrestling share a paucity of honest emotions. But Linda McMahon, who as CEO built World Wrestling Entertainment into a billion-dollar company, might think comparing wrestling to politics insults wrestling. As she seeks the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd, she says the honesty deficit concerns not emotions but facts.

Her Democratic opponent, Richard Blumenthal, who served six years in the Legislature, has been Connecticut’s attorney general for 20 years, so he knows how to parse sentences. Yet his penchant for (to be polite) tactical imprecision goes beyond his various falsehoods – he says he “misspoke” every time – about serving in Vietnam.

He says he served on “active duty” in the Marine Reserve. That is true only if training is counted. He says he joined in 1970 even though the draft lottery gave him a high number that made him unlikely to be conscripted. His number, however, was 152, and men with numbers up to 195 were vulnerable to induction. In 2002, he said he enlisted because he had a “pretty low draft number.”

On MSNBC he intimated that he would not take “special interest” or PAC money, promising fundraising “from ordinary citizens.” But he flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a PAC fundraising event for him and 11 other Democratic Senate candidates. Blumenthal said it was not for Harry Reid. Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie reports that the invitation to the event and documents filed with the Federal Election Commission say Reid was among the beneficiaries. Blumenthal says it was an opportunity to discuss problems “affecting ordinary people.” Rennie says the top ticket price was $43,200.

Because approximately 25 percent of Connecticut voters must be reached by New York City television, campaigning in Connecticut is expensive. McMahon may spend $50 million of her own money. Measured by dollars spent per vote cast, this may be 2010’s costliest statewide race.

McMahon illustrates the perils inherent in being financially able to start a political career near the top of the electoral system, under the pressure of a Senate race. Asked if she would favor raising the minimum wage, she said she generally opposes federal mandates and the wage should be reviewed. Asked what Connecticut’s minimum wage is, she did not know. A seasoned politician, recognizing the minimal importance of the minimum wage, would weave away to topics people care about.

Connecticut has 400,000 registered Republicans, 800,000 registered Democrats and 900,000 unaffiliated voters. If voters were all men, McMahon probably would win. One poll shows Blumenthal with a 31-point lead among women. This is substantially because of some old WWE skits featuring women in attire and settings not conducive to refined sensibilities. WWE has now toned down its acts, and when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were rivals, both appeared on televised WWE events. McMahon says she regrets some of the skits and fortunately for her, four centuries have diluted Connecticut’s Puritanism.

“Connecticut,” says Michael Barone, author of the Almanac of American Politics, “was founded by Puritans who considered Massachusetts too lenient and backsliding.” Today, however, one of Connecticut’s biggest employers is a casino (Foxwoods, the property of a small tribe). And the Puritans would not have been amused if they had known that in 2010 most of Connecticut’s residents would be descended from Catholic immigrants.

The state was one of only six that voted to re-elect Herbert Hoover in 1932 but has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. Obama got 61 percent of the vote. Since Connecticut’s Rep. Chris Shays lost in 2008, all of New England’s 22 congressional seats have been occupied by Democrats.

Because there are fewer jobs in Connecticut than there were 20 years ago, McMahon, who has created more than 500 Connecticut jobs, could crib an ad from Ron Johnson. The Republican businessman currently running ahead of Wisconsin’s incumbent senator says:

“There are 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Fifty-seven of them, including Russ Feingold, are lawyers. That’d be fine if we had a lawsuit to settle, but we have an economy to fix. There are zero manufacturers and one accountant. It’s no wonder we’re losing jobs and piling up debt. … I know how to balance a budget and I do know how to create jobs and that’s something we could really use.”

McMahon is content to have Connecticut vote on this proposition: There already is a surfeit of Blumenthals in Washington, and a scarcity of McMahons.

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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