Conn. Senate Race Pits AG Against Ex-Wrestling CEO

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Mark Pazniokas of The Connecticut Mirror about the Senate race in Connecticut between Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Linda McMahon — former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We've been doing a state-by-state check in on Senate races and some governorships. And today, we're going to hear about Connecticut. Long time Democratic senator Christopher Dodd is retiring and the race to succeed him is between a conservative Republican business woman, Linda McMahon, and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. McMahon's business was World Wrestling Entertainment. This is from one of her commercials - two women in a car talking about how McMahon made her money.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: So what do you think about Linda McMahon?

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, I like what she's saying.

Unidentified Woman #1: What about the wrestling stuff?

Unidentified Woman #2: Not exactly my cup of tea.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, it's a soap opera.

Unidentified Woman #2: Really?

Unidentified Woman #1: Look, she tamed this traveling show world of professional wrestling, turned it into a global company and created 500 jobs here in Connecticut.

Unidentified Woman #2: All right. So?

Unidentified Woman #1; Think she can shake things up in Washington?

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, yeah.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, yeah.

SIEGEL: Well, joining us from Hartford, Connecticut now is Mark Pazniokas, who's Capitol bureau chief for The Connecticut Mirror.

And first, has Linda McMahon's advantage as a self-financing candidate who's created some jobs outweighed whatever misgivings people have about professional wrestling?

Mr. MARK PAZNIOKAS (Capitol Bureau Chief, The Connecticut Mirror): Her advantages as a self-financing candidate have certainly outweighed those advantages. I'm not sure how well her message about creating jobs has resonated. I think the heart of her message is - I am not of Washington, I am not of the political elite. And this year, as you've seen around the country, that's a message that's working.

SIEGEL: Now, according to the polls, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general, has a tougher race on his hands now than seemed likely a few months ago. This is from one of his ads.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: I'm sick.

Unidentified Woman #2: I'm sick.

Unidentified Woman #3: I'm sick of her ads.

Unidentified Man: The truth is, Dick Blumenthal stopped nearly $1 billion in utility rate hikes and supports cutting taxes for the middle class. Linda McMahon just doesn't get it.

SIEGEL: He certainly has been a politician for a long time.

Mr. PAZNIOKAS: I mean, Richard Blumenthal has the resume that every politician would die for. And in any year but this one, he would have the resume that can't be beat. It is truly a gold-plated resume, starting with his undergrad years at Harvard, Yale Law with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He was a aide in the Nixon White House to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And, for good measure, he was a clerk for Harry Blackmun in the Supreme Court. If that's enough, he was the country's youngest U.S. attorney. And he's been Connecticut's longest-serving attorney general.

SIEGEL: Of course, earlier this year, he was caught out implying that he had served in Vietnam, which would embellish this incredibly gold-plated resume as it is, has he put all that behind him?

Mr. PAZNIOKAS: By and large, he has. As far as those controversies go, it was an odd one because this was not a case of a man constructing these fabulous tales and putting himself in specific places. This was a guy who, for most of his career, was quite diligent in accurately portraying that he was a Marine reservist.

But there were at least five cases where he's out on the stump and he would say things like when I returned from Vietnam, this is how we were treated. It's almost inexplicable because the standing he had in Connecticut, even now, even with the race being a statistical dead heat, his job approval rating is still 68 percent. You know, people think he's been a really good attorney general.

SIEGEL: How does Blumenthal, as a Democrat running in a year that doesn't look too promising for the Democrats, how does he finesse the problem of joining with the majority and an administration in Washington which has been losing popularity nationwide?

Mr. PAZNIOKAS: Well, that's a question his campaign has not been able to answer. He had a rather unpleasant milestone that he hit yesterday when the Quinnipiac Poll really pronounced it a dead heat. And it looked like really what drove it is the incredible anger that voters are feeling towards Washington. About a third of the electorate described itself as angry with the federal government. And among those voters, Linda McMahon is supported by better than 70 percent.

When he jumped into the race, the day that Chris Dodd - a very battered and tired Chris Dodd - got out, the Democrats rejoiced. This race immediately was put into the safe column for the Democrats. Nobody really took McMahon that seriously. They paid some attention to her because she jumped in by saying, look, I'm willing to spend $50 million on this race. And to put that into a context, the norm in Connecticut is about six million bucks for a statewide race. So we're in just a whole other universe here.

SIEGEL: Mark, thank you very much.

Mr. PAZNIOKAS: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Mark Pazniokas, who is Capitol bureau chief for The Connecticut Mirror. He spoke to us from Hartford.

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