Democratic Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal began with a 40 percent lead in this race over first time candidate Linda McMahon, who won a fairly contentious Republican primary by beating Peter Schiff and Rob Simmons. Now, b
y all measures, Blumenthal's lead is within the margin of error. Most reputable political analysts have labeled this race for retiring Senator Chris Dodd's seat a "toss-up." Ignore that sentence; it was written two weeks ago. Blumenthal has a fairly safe lead outside the margin of error.
The race should be closer. For one, Blumenthal is a career politician in an election cycle when voters want to throw out all the bums. Political insiders have panned his television appearances, calling him stiff, dull, and a bit entitled. And though the McMahon campaign did a poor job of feeding the New York Times information about the times when Blumenthal misrepresented his military record (implying that he'd served in Vietnam when he hadn't), footage of his "misstatements" has certainly given Connecticut voters pause about his integrity and candor.
McMahon, who ran World Wrestling Entertainment along with her husband Vince, has self-funded her campaign, accepting contributions of only $100 or less. She has done retail politics well and has crisscrossed the state; as a result, voters genuinely seem to like her.
While Blumenthal has campaigned with national Democrats such as President Obama, McMahon has kept things local. She's deflected questions about whether she would like Sarah Palin's endorsement and has not linked her campaigns to national Tea Party groups, even though she has been endorsed by some. Given the Democratic nature of the state in which she is running, this is perhaps a smart strategy.
Longtime incumbents such as Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett have suffered shocking setbacks this election cycle primarily because, perhaps due to complacency, they didn't go negative and define their opponents early on. Blumenthal may have to go on the attack to stave off McMahon.
Democrats have attacked McMahon for WWE's various seedy and sultry plotlines: the one in which her husband Vince makes out with scantily clad bombshell Torrie Wilson, or the one in which the curvaceous and blonde beauty Trish Stratus is forced to bark like a dog and strip off her clothes as a form of punishment for crossing Vince and his daughter Stephanie. But these attacks have not stuck because voters seemed to understand, as McMahon has repeatedly said, that WWE is a soap opera with outrageous plotlines.
Moreover, the more WWE stories are brought up, the more McMahon seems like a political outsider. A more effective tactic for Blumenthal may be to target McMahon for the way her company has treated its wrestlers (as independent contractors rather than full time employees, depriving them of many benefits), for allegations surrounding the company's management of wrestlers' steroid use, and for the premature deaths of many wrestlers alleged to have used performance-enhancing substances.
Blumenthal can contrast the underside of WWE with his record as attorney general during the years McMahon was running the wrestling company. He has recently led an effort to pressure Craigslist to shut down its "adult services" section, alleging that it facilitates sex trafficking. This crusade will remind voters of what Blumenthal has to offer; whether they prefer McMahon's freshness and the fact that she will not be beholden to anyone is the question that will be answered in the coming weeks.
Not many people thought Connecticut would be in play for the GOP. But Blumenthal has under-performed as much as McMahon has over-performed. He still has many advantages over McMahon, despite the fact that he can play the role of a mash-up of John Kerry's and Al Gore's worst stereotypes. But should McMahon pull off an upset, this race could possibly be the one that tips the Senate to the GOP.