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For McMahon, WWE role wrestled to mat?

Democrat foe forgoes line of attack that helped sink her first Senate bid

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Voters in Connecticut aren't crazy about Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon's background as a top executive in the garish world of pro wrestling, but Democratic rival Rep. Christopher S. Murphy's three terms as a U.S. congressman may be even more damaging to him.

Both candidates' professions are unsavory to voters in the Nutmeg State, with more than 60 percent saying they view Congress and pro wrestling negatively. While just 5 percent said they feel "very positive" about pro wrestling, that was still better than the mere 2 percent who said the same thing about Congress.

But for many voters, it's now old news that Mrs. McMahon was one of the chief architects, along with husband Vince, of the world's largest pro wrestling organization. Meanwhile, Mr. Murphy, who is running statewide for the first time, is facing the anti-Washington backlash for his time on Capitol Hill.

"It became obvious at the beginning of the campaign that people were not going to buy into the WWE thing any longer. Murphy has tried to use that, but I think he has given that up as well," said Gary Rose, a political-science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

And Mrs. McMahon has even turned her past into a boon, using the massive personal fortune earned from her time with World Wrestling Entertainment to pay for ads vilifying Mr. Murphy for his time in Washington, slamming him for missing committee meetings and digging into his Hill voting record.

In the process, she's managed to galvanize her voter base in a way Mr. Murphy hasn't. While the two were virtually tied in a Quinnipiac poll last week, half of her supporters expressed strong enthusiasm for their candidate, compared with just 27 percent of those backing Mr. Murphy.

It's a major change from 2010, when she ran for the seat of retiring Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat, and faced then-state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Mr. Blumenthal accused the WWE of marketing violence, sex and abusive treatment of women, while the state Democratic Party labeled Mrs. McMahon a "crotch-kicker," drawing attention to a now-notorious Internet video in which she kicked a man's groin area in one of the staged dramas she would often act out inside the ring.

Mrs. McMahon spent heavily in 2010, lending her campaign $50 million to try to fight back against the charges, and outspending Mr. Blumenthal by seven-to-one.

But the attacks on Mrs. McMahon worked, and he easily defeated her, garnering 55 percent of the vote.

This year she is again spending heavily — nearly $12 million through late July, which is the most recent data available. She hasn't released figures from July through September, but Mr. Murphy has, and he raised just $3 million in that period.

Mr. Murphy, who has lower likability ratings than Mrs. McMahon, has generally avoided the wrestling attacks, instead focusing on her business dealings, criticizing the company's hiring of overseas workers and how she and her husband filed for bankruptcy back in the 1970s.

Connecticut voters say they're not hearing much about pro-wrestling these days — but they're hearing a lot of what Mrs. McMahon's campaign wants them to hear.

"We get a flier at least once a week," said Margaret Boisture, a Windsor Locks resident who said she will probably vote for Mrs. McMahon. "At every carnival we've been to, her people have been there. Last election, you heard all about the wrestling and all of that. I haven't heard anything this year."

Both she and husband Bruce said they'll vote for Mrs. McMahon even though her association with the WWE bothers them. Mrs. Boisture calling it "trashy" and Mr. Boisture saying it's a "definite negative."

But Mr. Boisture said he's not enthusiastic about sending Mr. Murphy to the Senate either, saying the three-term congressman "hasn't done so well" in Congress.

"We're sitting here in Connecticut with one of the highest unemployment rates of anywhere in the country," Mr. Boisture said. "I think people are just saying you know what, it almost doesn't matter where she came from. We just need somebody different."

Besides just deflecting attention away from the WWE and onto Mr. Murphy, voters say they've seen Mrs. McMahon soften her image, playing up her roles as a wife and mother and especially courting the female vote.

"She has run a very savvy advertising campaign, which for the most part has recharacterized her as being a mother, kind, that sort of thing, as opposed to the wrestling," said Groton resident Tim Bates, who said he'll nonetheless be voting for Mr. Murphy.

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