MILFORD–One of the lessons from her failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign was put into practice on day two of the new 2012 campaign: Linda McMahon mingled Wednesday with real people on real shop floors, trailed by a six-man film crew.
A day after announcing her candidacy for U.S. Senate in a factory in Southington, McMahon arrived at 8:45 a.m. at Alinabal, the first of two precision manufacturers she visited here to launch a three-day jobs tour.
McMahon said a postmortem of her 2010 campaign reinforced what she sensed as a first-time candidate: With all the advantages that a $50 million budget could bring, she was at her best campaigning one-on-one, and her ease on the trail translated into effective television.
“A lot of the input that we received from focus groups–because I really wanted to see kind of what worked and what didn’t–was that the commercials that I did that were, like filming here… interacting with real people, [are] a better way to communicate,” McMahon said.
As the chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment until she first became a candidate in September 2009, McMahon essentially oversaw a television production and marketing company known for having a keen sense of its audience. Her market is now the Connecticut electorate.
“You learn with the different kinds of advertising that we did before how to message effectively,” McMahon said. “And also volume, just making sure we’re not over-saturating. I don’t have to do that, because there is good brand and name recognition now. And I learned a lot.”
In 2010, McMahon dominated the airwaves with a budget nearly six times greater than her Democratic opponent, and her direct mail was so voluminous that even some of her supporters objected.
“We had way too much mail, way too much mail,” McMahon said. “So we won’t see that much mail this time.”
What remains the same is the central message of her campaign.
McMahon ran the first time as a political outsider, touting her business acumen. She is again casting herself as the candidate who best understands business in an uncertain economic environment.
“It’s really just building on the foundation that I started,” McMahon said. “Times are changing, too.”
So is the popularity of job tours. President Obama recently did one. So did Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Congressional Black Caucus, dozens of congressional candidates, state House Republicans in Massachusetts and Democratic legislators in Tennessee.
On Wednesday, McMahon spent 2½ hours at Alinabal and Drill Master-Eldorado Tools, quizzing workers about their jobs and company executives about their needs. Business is good at both companies.
Alinabal has hired at least 50 contract workers to supplement its full-time workforce of 233, said Paul M. Kelley, the vice president and general manager. But uncertainty over the economy is keeping the company from making more permanent hires, he said.
On the production floor at Alinabal, McMahon smiled to see Ed Cavanaugh of Hamden in a well-worn T-shirt with the logo from her 2010 campaign.
A still photographer, a videographer and soundman danced around her as she stopped to talk to workers. Another crew member held aloft a square panel embedded with tiny LED lightbulbs that provided illumination.
Some of the footage is likely to show up soon on her campaign web site, while a portion could be used in television commercials.
McMahon asked executives at about the usefulness of research-and-development tax credits.
“Do you protect those R&D allowances as senator, or are you looking to increase them? That’s good information for me to have,” McMahon said. “Those are the kinds of questions that I am trying to ask of a lot of these business owners as to what kind of gives them the opportunity to expand.”
At Drill Masters, she asked owner Tom Hall if his company was hampered by government regulations.
“He said, ‘No, not really,’ ” McMahon said.
She was greeted at both companies by former state Sen. Tom Scott, R-Milford, who has worked in real estate, talk radio and political organizing since leaving the General Assembly in 1991 after an unsuccessful run for Congress. He is political director of the campaign.
Her entourage for her first full day in the field included her campaign manager, Corry Bliss, her communication director, Erin Isaac, and her chief consultant, Chris LaCivita, who also is advising a U.S. Senate campaign in Missouri.
In a borrowed conference room at Drill Master, McMahon conducted a 20-minute online Q&A about her jobs tour.
The questions were friendly.
Mitt from Middletown asked about the jobs tour.
“I just kicked off my jobs tour this morning, with stops at two small businesses in Milford — Alinabal and Drill Masters-Eldorado Tools. But I’m hearing some great ideas from people. I believe if you want to be a voice for small business in Washington, first you have to listen to them.
“The people of Connecticut, like people all across America, are frustrated with the rampant spending coming from President Obama. We simply cannot spend more than we bring in. As a mother and a business person, I know that type of budgeting simply doesn’t work. Every household and business knows that, but Washington doesn’t get it. We can’t pass on the responsibility for the President’s wild spending spree onto our children and grandchildren”
Joe asked if she ever imagined running for U.S. Senate as a kid.
“No, I never did, but I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed traveling the state of Connecticut meeting as many people as possible and talking about how we can get our economy working again.”
Shirley asked about her greatest achievement.
“My family: I have two terrific children and six fabulous grandchildren!”
Steve was closer to being on message. He asked how she would change the Senate.
“I will bring a different perspective to Washington — the perspective of a business owner, not a professional politician.”