With one day to go before the Connecticut Republican Senate primary, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon leads former Congressman Rob Simmons handily enough in polls that it appears she'll win without much trouble.
Connecticut's own Quinnipiac University, the only major polling entity still following the primary, shows McMahon pulling away, according to numbers released today:
McMahon 50%Simmons 28%Peter Schiff 15%
Last week, McMahon led Simmons 47% to 30%
This has been quite a race, filled with attacks and intrigue. Simmons looked to be the favorite last year, before the election season really got underway, but McMahon, wealthy from the WWE's success, assembled a solid campaign team and outspent Simmons almost nine to one ($14.8 million to $1.7 million) before the state Republican convention in late May, where she defeated him 737 delegates to 632.
Simmons "suspended" his campaign a few days later, while remaining on the primary ballot. Evidently bitter about the convention loss, Simmons told The National Review that he wouldn't vote for McMahon in November if she became the party's Senate candidate and that she'd only won the convention vote because of "money"; he later apologized in an interview with Politico.
By that time, Simmons' campaign had pushed out numerous tidbits about steroid abuse and racy storylines in the WWE, suggesting a lack of judgment and character by McMahon. His website kept up several YouTube videos about not-for-children WWE content and the death of wrestler Owen Hart. As Connecticut Democrats did the same, the Simmons team dug through publicly available footage. Here's an example of some of the stuff that's made it to press.
But after Simmons "suspended" his active campaign activities, information kept making its way into reporters' hands. Since such trafficking of research happens off the record, it's impossible to know where it came from, but there was at least a mild suspicion that Simmons was running some sort of stealth campaign against McMahon while publicly denying that he was campaigning for the Senate seat. Simmons would make appearances around the state and, when asked if he was still running, he would say, "I'm still on the ballot." Helping this rumor was the fact that Simmons is a former CIA agent.
On July 22, he began running TV ads reminding voters of that fact, while still denying that he was running for Senate. Finally, two weeks ago, Simmons showed up to a July 27 debate with Schiff (neither McMahon nor Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal attended) and said, on stage, "I am running for U.S. Senate."
McMahon is now poised to win, despite the looming possibility that the Tea Party-esque Schiff will steal some of the votes she receives on the merit of "outsider" appeal.
Democrats seemed to fret over this race more than necessary: it's been on the radar of Washington Democrats despite Blumenthal's consistent lead of 15%-20%. Connecticut is a blue state; would it really elect a Republican over a popular attorney general like Blumenthal?
McMahon is, however, a fearsome candidate for two reasons: 1) she's a political outsider at a time when anti-incumbent sentiment is very strong, and 2) money.
McMahon has pledged to spend $50 million on this race, though her personal assets mean she could spend more if she wanted to. As of June 30, McMahon had spent $18 million. Blumenthal, at that time, had $2.1 million in the bank and had spent less than that all year, without a real primary contest. He will not be able to match her air-time.
But Blumenthal's lead has shrunken steadily, and he now leads McMahon by only 10 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week. If McMahon's millions have their intended effect, what once looked like an open-and-shut Democratic win could become a close contest by November, forcing Democrats to expend resources to hold onto the seat long held by retiring Sen. Chris Dodd.