Linda McMahon certainly grasps the art of the sale. "The choice in this election is absolutely clear," the GOP Senate hopeful from Connecticut explained during the race's second debate, held in a Norwalk banquet hall on Oct. 7. "We have a career politician vs. a businesswoman who knows how to create jobs." Her tone made politicians sound about as reputable as subprime-mortgage lenders.
In a season when voters have turned time and again to candidates posing as outsiders, McMahon, 62, is the real thing. The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has never held elected office, yet she set aside $50 million to bankroll her bid for the seat being vacated because of Senator Chris Dodd's retirement. McMahon remains a long shot. The moderate Republican is a vanishing breed across New England, and a wrestling tycoon with a family yacht named Sexy Bitch is an awkward fit for the blue, buttoned-up Nutmeg State. As recently as June, McMahon trailed Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the state's popular attorney general, by more than 20 points.
But the race has tightened. A New York Times report that he had misstated his military service hampered Blumenthal, and McMahon has chipped away at his lead with repeated takedowns of Washington's bankrupt culture and spendthrift habits. A social moderate, McMahon wants to repeal health care reform and restart the economy by trimming regulations and taxes. Unlike Blumenthal, she backs preserving the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. She also touts her stewardship of WWE as ideal preparation for the Senate. "You don't understand business," she told Blumenthal, 64, during the debate. "It's not your fault. You've been in government all your life."
It was a good body slam, but McMahon has résumé issues of her own. WWE has come under fire for marketing sex and violence to children, and the jobs it created were perilous ones. Despite a history of steroid abuse and a series of deaths, wrestlers aren't entitled to comprehensive health insurance because they work as independent contractors. McMahon suspended a broad drug-testing program from 1996 to 2006. (Not "cost-effective," she told a congressional panel.)
It hasn't been easy putting the black hat on Blumenthal or making it stay there. A recent TIME/CNN/Opinion Research poll gave Blumenthal a 54%-to-41% lead, including an 11-point cushion among independents. But there's still time for McMahon to make her pox-on-Washington pitch. And this year, plenty of voters are buying.