HARTFORD, Conn. — GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon is courting ticket-splitters in a new ad in which four supporters of President Barack Obama, who has a double-digit lead in the state, say they also will cast ballots for her. Her campaign strongly denied she was writing off Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, saying she supports the former Massachusetts governor "100 percent."
"Linda McMahon will work with President Obama and I believe he'll work with her," says one of the voters in the ad, David Cole, a disabled veteran who said he plans to vote for the Republican on the independent line in November. McMahon's name will appear as both the Republican and the Independent candidate.
Nonsense, said Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democrat in the race once thought to have a better shot at winning.
"This is one of the strangest political ads I have ever seen because we know that Linda McMahon is going to oppose President Obama on everything that he stands for. She's told us that, over and over again," said Murphy, referring to the Republican candidate's calls to repeal and replace Obama's health care legislation and her opposition to his positions on energy reform and tax policy. "I mean, there is almost nothing Linda McMahon agrees with President Obama on, which makes this ad absolutely deceitful."
It was the latest volley in one of the nation's quirkiest Senate races, one of a series of stubbornly tied contests that have left the national battle for control of the Senate in question. Republicans need to gain three seats, or four if Obama wins. From Massachusetts to Connecticut, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Nevada and Arizona, contests for Senate are so tight that with two weeks to go, the parties, candidates and outside groups are doling out cash and getting creative about peeling votes away from the other guy.
With McMahon's ad, Connecticut joins Senate races in which candidates are banking on voters choosing candidates of different parties down the ticket. In places like Montana and North Dakota, the politics are reversed, with Romney expected to win big and Democratic Senate hopefuls making their pitches as independent-minded candidates.
In Connecticut, the candidates are racing to win the seat of a retiring senator who counted himself an independent: Sen. Joe Lieberman, who caucused with the Democrats.
The state has a vibrant independent streak. As of last week, the Secretary of the State's Office reported 2 million registered voters in Connecticut, with the largest group, 842,335, being unaffiliated. They are followed by registered Democrats, at 744,729 and registered Republicans at 422,312.
McMahon's ad rankled Republicans, after they chose the former wrestling empire executive over former Rep. Christopher Shays in the August primary. McMahon lost in 2010 to then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal after spending more than $50 million of her own money. She has so far personally spent some $27 million on this year's race. State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola said the Connecticut Republican Party headquarters has been "experiencing very high call volume in response to the ad," with Republican "expressing serious concerns."
"It's a distressing situation, but we're doing our best to deal with it," he said, adding how he still believes Romney can win in Connecticut and how he's "working very hard to get to elect all Republicans on the top line of the ballot this November."
McMahon's campaign spokesman, Todd Abrajano, said the campaign has not received a large number of complaints.
"I think most people realize that in the state of Connecticut, if you're a Republican running statewide, you're going to have to get independents and Democrats to vote for you in order to win," said Abrajano.
Abrajano said McMahon supports the GOP presidential ticket "100 percent" and is not encouraging people to vote for Obama, who is expected to win relatively easily in Connecticut. However, if Obama wins, he said McMahon is willing to work with him.
Bill Heyn, a 70-year-old retiree from New Canaan who attended a McMahon rally on Monday in Stamford featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said he understands why McMahon is running such an ad.
"It makes sense. She's got to get somebody to cross over," he said. "She's trying to win."