Former President “Teflon” Bill Clinton, nicknamed such because despite personal and political baggage he remains a popular figure, was in New Haven Sunday to stump for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Dick Blumenthal, Connecticut’s long-time attorney general.
But perhaps Clinton has more in common with Blumenthal’s Republican opponent, Linda McMahon, who, according to today’s Quinnipiac University poll, has knocked his 41-point lead in January down to just 3 points.
That is a stunning achievement and if you are in any way involved in the McMahon campaign, you’ve got to be feeling pretty proud of your hard work at this point and thinking the $22 million she has invested so far in this first-time bid for office is paying off.
And she’s risen in the polls despite the fact:
1. McMahon resides, unlike the majority of the voters she hopes to represent in Congress, in a gated Greenwich neighborhood, owns a boat named “Sexy Bitch” and wants to extend tax cuts for the wealthy, herself included.
2. The family’s company, World Wrestling Entertainment in Stamford, was investigated by Congress just a few years ago as part of a probe into steroid use in professional wrestling.
3. Questions have been raised over whether McMahon herself interfered in a federal investigation of the company in the late 1980s.
4. WWE is currently being audited by the state of Connecticut to determine if the company mis-classified employees as independent contractors, enabling the McMahons to avoid paying certain benefits and taxes.
5. Those independent contractors include WWE’s talent, some of whom have died at a very young age, including during this very campaign, raising questions about the toll the business McMahon’s using to fund her campaign has taken on the performers.
7. McMahon talks about her skills creating jobs, but WWE laid off 10 percent of its workers and much of the company’s merchandise is manufactured in China.
8. McMahon’s resume of public service is limited, as is her apparent knowledge of some high profile controversies within the state she wants to represent, such as immigration issues in New Haven and the proposal to build a giant natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound.
And just for the heck of it, one of McMahon’s key economic advisers partied with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. If she were a Democrat I guarantee that Republicans would not let that go unnoticed by voters.
Whew! That’s a lot of bad publicity. None of it perhaps rises to Monica Lewinsky levels of scandal, but still…
And yet those Quinnipiac numbers don’t lie – from 41 points to 3 points.
Sure a greater percentage – 43 percent – of the likely voters polled have a negative opinion of McMahon than earlier this month, when that number stood at 41 percent. But let me repeat, from 41 points to 3 points.
It’s obvious much of McMahon’s rise has to do with her ability to fund a positive message about herself and changes in how people get their news.
In these days when fewer and fewer folks obtain their information from newspapers, the impact of any one story is lessened.
The Waterbury Republican-American criticizes her and her company for producing products in China? The New London Day breaks some new story about steroids in wrestling? Whether you care or not, if you don’t read those newspapers or visit their web sites, you might never learn of those issues to form an opinion.
Former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons’ campaign during the GOP primary for Senate was constantly frustrated by the fact a news source in one corner of the state would publish a story critical of McMahon but it would not get picked up by other news sources.
But no matter where they live, McMahon has made sure voters have been exposed to advertising touting her skills as an executive and her ability to create jobs and criticizing Blumenthal as a dissembling career politician.
I called up Ben Davol, a former Republican operative-turned-independent voter, New London Day columnist and political commentator who admires what the Tea Party is doing to get citizens involved in their government. What does he make of Teflon Linda?
“I from the beginning have always felt that the idea of going after her WWE experience was a huge mistake,” Davol said. “The Simmons campaign did that for a year and where did it get Rob? Back clipping hedges at his house. The Blumenthal campaign has picked up what the Simmons’ campaign did and tried to use it … The reason she has $50 million to spend on her campaign is because WWE is an incredibly popular entertainment source for people. Whatever’s been talked about – steroids or wrestlers dying – that does not impact peoples’ day-to-day lives. It simply does not. I’ve never understood going after that … I’m sure the McMahon folks, the first thing they thought of when she was running was the whole ‘WWE issue’. They were prepared for this from the beginning. Everybody’s fallen into the trap.”
Davol said he believes McMahon has gotten a free ride from her Democratic and Republican opponents over her lack of experience and the lack of specifics she offers on issues impacting Connecticut and the nation.
“You look at the last mailing – it’s all very ‘surface’,” he said.
But if that is the case, I asked, what does that say about Connecticut voters and the fact they are close to electing her Connecticut’s next U.S. Senator?
“She’s an attractive candidate. Well spoken. She’s a very likable person. A very good story. Not to mention the fact she’s a pretty good marketer. Voters are going ‘Sure. Why not? Sounds good to me!’ Voters are not going to get deep into a lot of specific issues unless presented to them to think about,” Davol said.
But there is also the fact that voters are angry, a point that is reinforced by today’s Quinnipiac poll.
So if you’re still with me let’s wrap-up this blog post where I began – Clinton’s visit on Sunday.
During his half-hour speech, the former President told the crowd of Democrats that Republican candidates nationwide want to make the mid-terms “a referendum on people’s anger, our disappointment, our apathy, with a good dose of amnesia thrown in. If this is a referendum, we’ve got a lot of trouble here.”
As of today, it looks like it’s a referendum in Connecticut and Linda McMahon is giving Dick Blumenthal a lot of trouble.