McMahon Enters Conn. Senate Race

fromWNPR

Former professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon Tuesday entered the Republican primary to replace retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman. McMahon, who lost a Senate race to Richard Blumenthal in 2010, will face former Rep. Christopher Shays. Shays is a moderate Republican who was defeated in 2008. The candidates on the Democratic side are Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.

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Connecticut has been called the Land of Steady Habits. But for the past few years, the political scene has been unusually rough and tumble. Longtime incumbents have been humbled by some surprising candidates.

Linda McMahon, a former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is one example, and she announced today she will run again for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Diane Orson, of member station WNPR, reports McMahon looks to be in for another tough match.

DIANE ORSON: Just a few years ago, Connecticut had two of the longest-serving and most respected Democrats in the Senate. But an insurgent challenger beat Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in 2006, forcing him to win re-election as an independent. Last year, senior Senator Chris Dodd bowed out and nearly saw his seat go to upstart Republican Linda McMahon, who lost to Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

Now, Lieberman is stepping down, and McMahon is back. Speaking today at a family-run manufacturing company in the town of Southington, McMahon stressed her business background at the top of the professional wrestling world.

LINDA MCMAHON: Ladies and gentlemen, I am a proven job creator. And today, I am announcing that I'm a candidate for the United States Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

ORSON: McMahon said her life story is an example of what hardworking Americans can achieve, and the current rate of unemployment is the government's fault.

MCMAHON: Here we are going into the fourth year of a lifeless economy, and we didn't add a single new job last month for the millions of people who want to work.

ORSON: McMahon stepped down from the WWE in 2009, and entered politics by spending an unprecedented $50 million of her own money. Quinnipiac University political science professor Scott McLean describes her as a heavyweight.

SCOTT MCLEAN: And I think the weight comes from all the money in her pockets.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCLEAN: As far as experience in government, she would be the least experienced person in the field, but the person with the biggest war chest.

ORSON: The field this time around includes former Republican congressman Chris Shays, who served 11 terms. Shays was the last Republican member of the House in New England when he was swept out of office by a tide of newly registered Democrats in 2008. A recent Quinnipiac University poll finds McMahon with a sizable early lead over Shays, but both of them trailing the state's two top Democratic candidates. Thirty-eight-year-old Chris Murphy is the Democratic front-runner. He's serving his third term in Congress, where he's been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and strongly connected to health-care reform. Murphy says he won't be able to match McMahon's financial muscle but...

Representative CHRIS MURPHY: We're going to have - Linda McMahon will not have - an army of volunteers that are out there spreading our message. I'm probably going to be one of the poorest Senate candidates to run across the country, but what I don't have in dollars, I will have in enthusiasm.

ORSON: He'll be facing former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz in the Democratic primary, among other rivals. The Democrats will likely argue they can each be a more reliable vote for the party than Lieberman, and a better boost to party turnout in a presidential election year. For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

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