At Fan Appreciation Day, McMahon’s a no-show

Republican Linda McMahon successfully drew a pack of reporters to World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Fan Appreciation Day” Saturday, telling the media she would make an appearance at the controversial event.

But while a half-dozen wrestling matches unfolded on stage at Hartford’s XL Center–all as noisy, brutal and messy as Connecticut’s U.S. Senate contest– McMahon herself never show up.

Ed Patru, a campaign spokesman, said she was too busy attending other events, although between 1:30 and 8 p.m., nothing else was on her public schedule.

Still, it was in some ways a fitting closing moment for a long campaign, in which McMahon, the ex-CEO of WWE and political neophyte, has often made herself hard to find for reporters covering her race. So while the candidate herself managed to stay out of the spotlight, the media and more than 15,000 WWE fans heard her husband, Vince McMahon, urge them to vote on Election Day.

Now the chairman and CEO of WWE, McMahon spoke at the 3-hour sold-out wrestling extravaganza for less than 3 minutes. And he never mentioned his wife’s name or her bitterly-contested Senate campaign against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

When he took the microphone, he joked that the crowd probably expected him to talk politics. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he boomed.

“But I do encourage you to vote this Tuesday,” he said. “And while you’re voting, feel free to wear a WWE T-shirt,” McMahon quipped, a reference to his legal victory over the Secretary of State’s office ensuring that WWE clothing will not be considered electioneering material.

McMahon got in a few other digs, too. He said Saturday’s event was a way to say thank you to WWE’s fans at a time when the company has been subjected to “elitism” and “distortion” by the media and by political opponents.

To be sure, Linda McMahon’s campaign has been dogged by questions about steroid use by WWE performers, the company’s marketing of violent shows to kids, and its degrading portrayal of women-all of which Democrats have sought to put front and center in the race.

“Nonetheless, 14 million of us watch WWE on television each and every week,” Vince McMahon said from the ring on Saturday. “Which means that you stand up for what you want to watch on television. It means you stand up for what you think is appropriate for your family to watch. And it means you stand up for what you enjoy. It means you stand up for WWE.”

“… So come on, stand up! Stand up! Stand up!” he exhorted the crowd, which obliged and cheered wildly.

The WWE show was contentious well before it officially got underway on Saturday. The Connecticut Democratic Party filed an election complaint alleging that the WWE event was “little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to rally support” for McMahon less than 72 hours before the polls open-a charge McMahon’s campaign has flatly rejected.

The show itself was a high-volume, high-energy performance, kicking off with a wrestling free-for-all; two dozen beefy wrestlers punching, head-butting, and kicking each other in a frenzied mash.

There was a “Diva Dance-Off,” with seven scantily-clad women dancing and gyrating to booming music and the audience invited to pick the best performer. And a wrestling match featuring “Hornswaggle,” a midget dressed in a green leprechaun outfit.

Then came the “one-night-only” return of Triple-H, a former WWE superstar and Linda McMahon’s son-in-law. He won his showdown against Alberto Del Rio, after doing his signature move, the “pedigree,” in which he slammed his opponent face-down on the stage.

Inside the XL Center, there were few signs of the raging political campaign playing out between McMahon and Blumenthal, with only the occasional “Linda for Senate” T-shirt visible in the crowd.

But several fans said they were revved up for Tuesday. And if there were any Blumenthal supporters, they weren’t advertising it.

“We’re tired of things being the same,” said Manny Mathews, a 50-year-old Winsor Locks resident, as he, his wife and three kids eagerly waited for Saturday’s show to start. “I see Dick Blumenthal as being the same that’s in there now.”

“I think Blumenthal is a putz,” offered Joe Heron, a 45-year-old from East Haddem. He said Blumenthal “lost all credibility” in his eyes when he suggested he’d served in Vietnam. Blumenthal served stateside as a reservist.

Aaron Teague, a 39-year-old from Groton, said McMahon would get his vote because he loves wrestling and WWE. “That’s all I need” to be convinced she’s the right candidate, he said, before running off to catch Triple-H’s match.