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There went $100 million

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published November 07. 2012 4:00AM

Imagine the spending spree hangover Linda McMahon must be nursing today.

No matter how much money you have, the estimated $100 million McMahon spent over two campaigns trying to acquire a U.S. Senate seat was an enormous fortune to fritter away.

And really, in the end, what's to show for it?

Think of the hospitals and schools all that money could have built, how much could have been spent on, say, medical research that might have improved so many lives.

She might have even gotten the lights on sooner in Connecticut, if she had saved just some of the money spent on airing so many more campaign commercials during the state's hurricane disaster week and instead hired teams of linemen.

Imagine spending more money on egocentric political campaigns than anyone ever, and still losing.

I thought it curious that McMahon, in doubling down on her loss to Sen. Richard Blumenthal in 2010, did more harm than good to her reputation on her second Senate campaign.

The 2010 campaign unearthed the seamy side of her WWE wrestling empire, the federal investigation into steroids abuse, the drug-addled wrestlers, wrestlers who died early because of their work, wrestlers who were not even entitled to medical benefits despite the severe toll their work took on their health.

It all seemed new then to voters, and newsworthy.

I was reminded a few weeks ago, when someone began circulating old video clips of the original raunchy WWE programming, back when Linda McMahon was in charge, of how people forgot this year how awful many of the shows were.

One scene in particular that I had never seen before seemed especially distasteful.

There was Vince McMahon, Linda's husband and business partner, in the ring one night, leaning over a cowering woman dressed only in a bra and panties. McMahon was shouting at the woman while undoing his belt and unzipping his trousers.

The camera panned the crowd and showed thousands of young men on their feet, cheering and shouting and egging McMahon on.

It's hard to imagine an architect of that kind of distasteful entertainment, no matter how entertaining to some, could find her way into the country's political elite.

By the start of her 2012 campaign, McMahon had a new strategy. In part, she and her campaign advisers knew the shock of WWE programming would have waned somewhat and that it was less newsworthy.

At the same time, they began refashioning McMahon as a mild-mannered grandmother, hoping women voters in Connecticut would forget about all that sexist programming.

In the end, the 2012 campaign was much more dishonest than the one in 2010, in which McMahon confronted the attacks against WWE and took on Blumenthal on the issues.

Instead, against Chris Murphy, McMahon crafted a nasty campaign full of character assassination and misleading or untruthful attacks.

Even her campaign press releases were harsh and mean-spirited, the product of a take-no-prisoners, win-at-any-cost political machine manned by a lot of old hands at the game of attack politics.

In other ways, it was a new animal in Connecticut politics, a campaign that dodged traditional media, interviews with reporters and editorial boards, and subsisted instead on images fabricated in television advertising and glossy brochures.

Even many of her supporters, the young people holding up McMahon signs on street corners and at rallies, were on the payroll.

Party leaders, sucked in by her money, turned their backs on traditional Republican candidates who have succeeded in winning elections in the past.

And now they've lost twice with the let's-buy-a-Senate-seat strategy.

Let's hope that's the last we have seen of that strategy in Connecticut for a while.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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