Did McMahon fail or did Murphy win?
By Naiden Stoyanov

Nov 13, 2012 - 7:43:43 AM

In the race for the U.S. Senate seat of the outgoing Senator Joe Lieberman, it was a battle to the end by Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy. And while the championship belt was taken by Murphy an interesting question remains – did he win or did Linda McMahon lose. On the surface just a question of semantics but in reality a question about politics, strategy and unforeseen consequences of spending too much money to oversell yourself.

This commentary doesn't intend to take anything away from Murphy and his hard-fought battle against McMahon and her mountain of resources. In the game of politics, anyone who can run against so much money and still come out victorious deserves every bit of credit for his win. It is merely an opinion on one of the many reasons why money is not the answer but only part of the equation during the long exercise in democracy we call elections.

This was the second bid for a spot on Capitol Hill by former World Wrestling Entertainment executive McMahon, running on the Republican ticket. Her previous attempt was just two years before when Connecticut voters elected now Senator Richard Blumenthal. Both times she spent big. McMahon spent about $50 million of her own money in 2010 and it is estimated that she spent another $46 million in 2012 for an estimated total of more than $96 million. The result was all the same.

Both times McMahon was defeated rather handily by Democratic opponents who spent a fraction of her budget. Yet there was something positive that came out of all of this for McMahon, although it could've been achieved with much less expense - an overwhelming name recognition by voters in Connecticut. How this newly gained popularity was used by McMahon played an important part in what cost her the election.

As a Congressman from Connecticut's 5th District, comprising largely of the relatively remote Northwest corner of the Constitution State, Murphy wouldn't have had a problem dancing in his car in broad daylight in most of Connecticut – not many people outside his jurisdiction recognized him and his youngish-looking face didn't not really fit the established stereotype for an experienced statesman with a weathered look, gray hair and commanding presence. Additionally, one could make a case that the fact that his first name matches the one of McMahon's Republican opponent in the primary – former Congressman Chris Shays, didn't make it easier for voters to distinguish him during the long and noisy election cycle.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released in June showed that 46 percent of voters haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion, while McMahon was only at 16 percent in the same category. Numbers that were largely unchanged from a poll conducted in March.

It was obvious that Murphy had to overcome a seemingly enormous challenge – introduce himself to Connecticut voters and convince them that he is the right man for the job. And do all of this against an opponent that was getting ready to outspend him the world over.

This is where McMahon played a part that she never anticipated.

Two years ago, McMahon ran against the then Attorney General of Connecticut Richard Blumenthal. His highly visible position, high favorability ratings and overall popularity that he enjoyed as the state's top lawyer made him a very difficult opponent. Even when he, by his own admission, “misspoke” about his military service, or lack thereof, Connecticut voters looked passed this transgression - polls continued to show him in the lead and he ultimately won the election.

McMahon spent about $50 million introducing herself.

So far so good. Expensive, but good for her. Whoever has money can spend it however they want.

Even though the 2010 election cycle was great for Republicans, no one expected a Republican to take the heavily Democratic Connecticut, especially someone who is so new to the political game, like McMahon.

The second time around, however, things were different. Linda was a household name. Even though she lost in 2010, she had the momentum, at least in the name recognition department.

She handily won the Republican primary over the well-seasoned, politically connected old-time Republican Chris Shays and she was on her way to capture the Senate flag. She started advertising on such a large scale that she quickly dwarfed all other races in the state by far. Voters were seeing and hearing Linda everywhere – on TV, their favorite web pages, on the radio, in the newspapers, on lawn signs, billboards, in their mailboxes (some with a few mailers a day!). Her name, her face, her message was everywhere! Murphy's? Not so much.

From the get go Linda McMahon was determined not only to raise her profile even further but to attack Chris Murphy as much as she could. The problem is that every time she spoke about Murphy she raised his profile as well. There is an old saying in marketing that even bad publicity is good publicity.

This was a classic case of overselling yourself and pointing the attention of the consumer to your competitors. People like to compare, but only where there is something to compare to. That's one reason why most commercials say that their product is better but they don't mention the competition.

When it comes to the economy – the main topic on the minds of voters during the 2012 election cycle - McMahon thought that her experience as a business executive of a successful corporation will be an asset, however, it turned out that both her business background as well as her involvement with an entertainment wrestling group was a huge liability for her.

The fact that her negative campaign ads turned the race into what reminisced of a WWE wrestling match where a huge bully is mercilessly pounding a mellow choir boy didn't help either. People like underdogs.

The interesting part is that McMahon was in fact the underdog in this traditionally blue state, but her continuous beating on Murphy elevated her to the status of a dominant overzealous businesswoman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, even if that meant spending almost $100 million. A number that more than raised eyebrows even in a state where some of the wealthiest people of our nation live.

Just a few days before the election, on October 24, a Quinnipiac University Poll showed that Murphy's favorability rating was a wash – 39-39 percent favorable/unfavorable, which was actually better than what a QU Poll showed three weeks before, when it was a negative 36-40 percent. Meanwhile, McMahon's favorability rating went down – 41-47 negative from 45-41 positive rating three weeks before.

And all this change happened without much exposure or effort from Chris Murphy which is probably the best testament of McMahon's mismanagement of her assets.

It should be a great holiday season at McMahon's house with lots of presents - Connecticut Democrats should be sending her an abundance of gifts. No one would've thought that Linda McMahon and her deep pocket would be an easy opponent and Democrats didn't have any reason to expect that their candidate would be a shoe in, even in a blue state like Connecticut.

Did Chris Murphy win or did Linda McMahon lose? This would be a question that could be debated by pundits for a long time. But there is a very easy way to answer it, albeit not scientific – ask any Connecticut voter what happened to the Senate race this year and you are most likely to get the answer: “Oh, didn't you hear? Linda lost.”

Naiden Stoyanov is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Stamford Plus and Norwalk Plus magazines. He is not affiliated in any political party and has not endorsed any candidate.

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