McMahon, Blumenthal discount polls in final push for Senate

Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Richard Blumenthal closed out their long, expensive, and still-volatile U.S. Senate contest in competing down-to-the-wire pitches across the state on Monday.

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Linda McMahon signs a campaign poster for a supporter (Deirdre Shesgreen)

McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and political newcomer, devoted her final push to Connecticut’s second congressional district, criss-crossing the eastern part of the state with stops from Vernon to New London.

At the Vernon Diner, McMahon discounted the latest Quinnipiac Poll, which showed her 9 points behind Blumenthal, before mingling with patrons enjoying coffee and pancakes. In Storrs, she shrugged off a student protest that disrupted a late-morning campaign stop on the University of Connecticut campus.

And at a family restaurant in New London, she predicted that her campaign’s superior turnout operation would catapult her to victory in a contest that both sides now agree with hinge on turnout.

“I like the fact that I’ve been nipping at Mr. Blumenthal’s heels, and we’re going to take his ankles out tomorrow,” she told a crowd of about 40 enthusiastic supporters gathered at Dev’s in New London.

She said her internal polls showed her within “a couple of points” of Blumenthal and said she liked being just a tad behind. “It keeps you running hard,” she said.

Blumenthal’s focus 24 hours before the polls opened was on touching base with reliable Democratic constituencies — at Pratt & Whitney in Middletown, at a meeting of unionized Yale service workers in New Haven and at Bella Vista, a seniors housing complex in New Haven.

In a church basement near Yale, Blumenthal thanked to members of Unite Here! The union members had spent the day door-knocking on behalf  of the Democratic ticket. Dan Malloy, the gubernatorial nominee, and other Democrats also spoke to the workers.

In Middletown, Blumenthal politely declined to address reporters’ questions about two polls that showed him with significant leads, but McMahon slightly closing.

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Richard Blumenthal encourages union supporters in New Haven (Mark Pazniokas)

“You know, I’m going to leave the polls to the pundits,” Blumenthal said, smiling. “I’m working as I always do, like I’m 10 points behind. There is tremendous energy out there and I feel a lot of excitement.”

Not all the voters felt that same excitement.

Flanked by a dozen union machinists waving signs outside the gate at the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft plant in Middletown, Blumenthal waved to departing and arriving workers at the jet-engine manufacturer. Many honked their horns and gave a wave or a thumbs up. But one man slowed his car, gave a thumbs down and yelled, “No!”

For McMahon, the most dramatic, and unwelcome, moment of the day unfolded in Storrs, where students protesting WWE’s treatment of women disrupted the GOP candidate’s campaign rally.  As McMahon greeted the students, Brenna Regan, a 20-year-old junior, tried to present the candidate with a “lifetime achievement award for promoting violence against women.”

Two other students in the crowd of about 40 carried signs that read, “McMahon Profits from Violence Against Women” and “Can’t Buy My Vote.”

McMahon first tried to ignore the protesters, instead turning to speak with reporters. But a few minutes into remarks characterizing the race as “neck-and-neck,” one of the McMahon supporters grabbed and crumbled a protester’s sign; the supporter, who declined to give her name, said the protester had pushed her.

McMahon’s campaign staff quickly shut down the event and ushered McMahon back to her SUV.

It was a noteworthy bookend to a pricey, year-long campaign in which WWE has been a prominent subject.  Blumenthal and other Democrats have raised questions about McMahon’s stewardship of the company, including the use of steroids by WWE wrestlers and the entertainment company’s degrading portrayal of women.

And McMahon has used some of the fortune she made at WWE to self-fund her campaign, spending at least $42 million so far and making Connecticut’s Senate contest the most expensive in the country.

All that money has won her broad name recognition and critical support in the polls. But it’s also turned some voters off.

“I just think they spend too much money on politics. It’s out of control,” said Art Herold, an independent who sipped his morning coffee at the Vernon Diner as McMahon greeted other customers. An independent, Herold said still hadn’t made up his mind about the Senate race but was leaning toward Blumenthal.

Bill Stascher, a resident of Old Saybrook who came to Dev’s to hear McMahon, said all the money McMahon has poured in didn’t bother him one bit.

“If you’re entrenched like the other candidate is, you have to do something,” he said. “She’s done a terrific job. She has the right message and the right material.”