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Linda McMahon Pins GOP Rival in Senate Smackdown

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The hottest U.S. Senate race in the region will be in Connecticut.

I'm talking hot as in a baby's bath temperature, or maybe a puddle on the street at around 8 p.m. But at least you might actually be able to name the candidates. See if you can remember who's running against the incumbents, Kirsten Gillibrand and Robert Menendez, in New York and New Jersey.

Wait -- come back! Never mind about New York and New Jersey.

Voters went to the polls in Connecticut -- even though it is totally insane to hold an election in the middle of August -- and picked their Senate contenders. The Democrats chose Congressman Chris Murphy and the Republicans picked Linda McMahon, whose single great political attribute is being rich.

You may recognize her name, if you had that kind of slightly misspent youth, as one of the leading figures in the world of professional wrestling. Earlier in her political career, McMahon tried to make a joke of her former role as the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment -- with little outtakes of her being slapped by her daughter, having her head slammed into the canvas and engaging in all the other hijinks you normally find in a sport geared for the sensibilities of a detention hall full of 13-year-old boys. (She is married to pro-wrestling pooh-bah Vince McMahon.)

Connecticut voters weren't amused -- McMahon lost the Senate race in 2010 to Richard Blumenthal by 11 points. This time around she's got a more subdued story line. She's still bragging about her record as a businesswoman and jobs creator, but the business in question is generally just referred to as "WWE."

  • World Wide Electronics?
  • Winter Weatherproofing Enterprise?
  • Wild Wombat Extermination?

In this week's primary, McMahon crushed Chris Shays, a former veteran member of Congress, by a nearly 3-1 margin. It was an interesting choice by the state's Republican voters. Shays is a moderate in a blue state where many of the voters are centrist. His record in Congress was built around issues like campaign finance reform -- what's not to like?

Shays has his flaws. He's far from an electric campaigner. After he lost his House seat in 2008, he moved to Maryland, which did suggest a bit of a sore loser. His refusal to say he'd support McMahon if she won the primary -- "I have never run against an opponent that I have respected less" -- sounded very whiny. [Shays now says he'll back McMahon.]

Still, all things being equal, you'd think the Republicans would want to take the chance. McMahon's only political experience was spending $50 million to lose to Richard Blumenthal, one of the most blah campaigners in Connecticut history, in a year when the Republicans were on a huge upswing.

McMahon is also faced with a very interesting gender gap. Women don't like her. According to a recent poll, her Democratic foe, Chris Murphy, held a 20-point lead among Connecticut women, while their presumably pro-wrestling friendly male counterparts gave McMahon a 7-point edge.

Perhaps McMahon will get better. Or perhaps she'll spend $100 million. At bottom, it's all about the money. Shays didn't have any. The Republicans may have just seen themselves as choosing between two losers, so why not go for the loser who's loaded? Political parties love to nominate wealthy candidates who can not only pay their own way but maybe spread a little bit of the wealth around to the rest of the parched herd.

And here's the other, even sadder, bottom line. Although McMahon's own political thinking seems a little murky, she's hung her hat on the conservative post, energizing a base in a state where the right wing has little to get enthusiastic about.

It's hard to get people all wound up about a moderate. Even now, when the nation is begging for some compromising in Washington, there's not much passion for the middle of the road.