Is poor little rich girl Linda McMahon being taken for another very expensive ride by cynical political hired guns?
After all, Republican consulting gurus like Connecticut's Pat Sullivan stand to make a lot of money (again) as long as McMahon continues her self-funded quest for the U.S. Senate.
There are Connecticut political veterans in both parties who scoff at the idea that McMahon is being conned into anything. They say that, if dudes like Sullivan are telling her she can win despite past experience and the political odds, it's a message she very much wants to hear.
Nobody thinks McMahon is a fool. And if she's ready to blow another $50 million of her own vast fortune, that's her choice. "If she loses that kind of money," one long-time Republican operative says privately, "it doesn't change her lifestyle, she still has [her family yacht] the 'Sexy Bitch' in the water down in Florida."
Another thing that hasn't changed is that the political consultants on her team stand to make a shitload of money from her campaign, even though McMahon's chances may not look all that good.
In 2010, she spent $50 million of her own money — a record-shattering amount by Connecticut campaign standards. She ran as a Republican in a year that was — everywhere but Connecticut — a huge GOP victory orgy. She was running against Democrat Richard Blumenthal, a guy some Republicans claimed was vulnerable.
He wasn't. She got whomped. By double digits.
Blumenthal was one of this state's most popular politicians who spent more than two decades as state attorney general attending every two-bit chicken dinner, town committee meeting and country fair he could find. Connecticut voters were so comfortable with Blumenthal that they ended up ignoring his strange, intermittent fantasy comments about serving in Vietnam when he never did.
McMahon was a total political newbie. Her sole qualification to run for the U.S. Senate was her experience as a CEO of a big company. One problem, according to former Democratic political consultant Lennie Grimaldi, is that, "You can be smart in business and not know what the fuck is going on in a political campaign."
Unfortunately and perhaps fatally for McMahon's chances, that company happened to be World Wrestling Entertainment, a sleazy TV mix of pseudo sex-and-violence with which Linda and her wild-assed husband, Vince McMahon, made their billion-dollar fortune.
(Video ads run by GOP opponents last time featured Linda pretending to kick a guy in the crotch and Vince telling a weeping woman to get down on her knees "and bark like a dog" in front of a screaming WWE crowd. There were also issues of steroids and other drug abuse and multiple deaths of WWE wrestlers.)
So McMahon, try as she might, could never escape the WWE curse. It killed her with women voters and may well do so again. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who seems likely to end up in a nasty primary nomination fight with McMahon, is already hammering away on the WWE theme.
The most recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed McMahon easily beating Shays in a primary but losing big to either U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy or former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, the two likeliest Democratic candidates.
McMahon's favorability ratings among women are still wallowing in the 35 percent range, according to a 2011 Q Poll.
But Scott McLean, chairman of political science at Quinnipiac University, doesn't consider McMahon a true "long shot" candidate. He thinks she did well in 2010 just to get that close to Blumenthal.
Sullivan is one of Connecticut's top lobbyists. He was instrumental in bringing McMahon into the 2010 race and remains one of her closest political advisors. He also made more than $600,000 off her failed effort against Blumenthal, according to federal reports.
Dallas-based Scott Howell & Co., described by Politico as a Republican "attack ad expert," made $11 million-plus from McMahon's last campaign.
Grimaldi, who now runs the popular "Only In Bridgeport" local political website, says it's clear McMahon got bad advice in 2010. But Grimaldi says it's doubtful that advice was cynically given.
"You believe what you want to believe when you're making a fortune off somebody," Grimaldi explains. McMahon's dudes wanted to believe she could win last time and they want to believe it now.
"There are very strong incentives for these people (her political consultants and advisors) to tell her anything she wants to hear," says one veteran GOP strategist, who agreed to discuss McMahon's campaign only if his name wasn't used.
He says there are always "leeches and blood-suckers… a cadre of vampires" hovering around every well-heeled political campaign, looking to cash in.
But this Republican operative, and even Democratic strategists like Roy Occhiogrosso, aren't willing to put Sullivan or McMahon's current team in that class and they don't believe McMahon is being conned into anything.
Occhiogrosso was Gov. Dannel Malloy's campaign manager and a long-time Democratic political operative. He's been on both sides of the winning-losing ledger. "A good consultant gives a candidate the best advice possible," Occhiogrosso says
"Sullivan does think he can pull it off," says another experienced Connecticut Republican familiar with the thinking on McMahon's staff. The prevailing theory is that the 2010 race gave McMahon the name recognition she needs, freeing up money to overcome her other handicaps (as in the WWE).
Many pols believe McMahon's chances depend on who runs as the GOP presidential candidate. The consensus seems to be that if it's the more traditional Mitt Romney (whom McMahon has endorsed), her chances improve; if it's right-winger Newt Gingrich, she may as well climb aboard the Sexy Bitch and drink margaritas.
Among the changes McMahon has made this time around, sources say, is putting less reliance on Sullivan's expertise and getting some different advisors. Gone is former state Sen. David Cappiello, who she paid $280,000 a year. Tom Scott, a right-wing former state lawmaker and radio talk show host who ran a long-shot independent campaign for governor in 1994, has been brought on as her political director.
Linda McMahon isn't poor. And she's not little, having grown up in a rough-and-tumble business and survived a grueling political introduction that ended in defeat.
So if she's being taken for an expensive ride this time around, as one GOP insider puts it, "She thinks that ride will get her all the way to the U.S. Senate."
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