McMahon spending millions to build new campaign

Washington – Republican Linda McMahon has spent nearly $4 million on her second bid for the Senate, using much of that money to rebuild her campaign and help reshape her message.

Some of the money is financing a political advertising agency known for its attack ads.

McMahon’s spending has strongly outpaced all of her rivals. The second-biggest spender in the race is Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th, who spent nearly $1.3 million on his campaign as of March 31.

According to her latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, McMahon’s spending — more than $1.5 million in the first three months of this year alone — shows that McMahon has changed some of the strategies used in her unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2010. Democrat Richard Blumenthal won the seat.

“When Linda first announced, she said this would be a different team,” said McMahon campaign spokesman Erin Isaac.

Now running for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat, McMahon spent more than $100,000 on polls in the first three months of the year.

Her campaign also ditched the media company she used in 2010, Texas-based Scott Howell & Co.

Instead the McMahon campaign has hired McCarthy Hennings Media, best known for the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that helped sink former Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.

McCarthy Hennings Media is also working for Restore Our Future, the pro-Mitt Romney PAC that spent millions on attack ads against Romney’s rivals.

McMahon has kept her Hartford-based public relations firm, Sullivan & LeShane. But Eugene Sheehan, the firm’s president, said Sullivan & LeShane would “do a little bit, but not nearly as much” for the campaign this time around.

Sheehan said McMahon is being “prepped differently for the debates,” in this campaign, and that his company is no longer involved.

Isaac said “Team Linda,” a group of campaign staffers and consultants, is now helping McMahon prepare for debates.

Tom Scott, a New Haven talk show radio host and former state legislator, is part of that group as a paid staffer.

A self-described “populist-conservative firebrand,” Scott has supported the death penalty and establishing English as the state’s official language.

Guerrilla Economics, a company that specializes in conservative economic messaging, was paid $20,000 by the campaign to help McMahon with her “Jobs Plan.”

Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia, said McMahon desperately needed an overhaul of her campaign organization — and that consultants have lots of ideas “which they offer for fat fees.”

“McMahon lost by a wide margin in a year when many other Republicans were winning,” Sabato said. “She also has a blue-tinged state. Something has to change or she’ll lose again,”

Her latest report to the FEC also shows that McMahon has also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to companies that advertise and fundraise on the Internet, including some that specialize in targeted solicitations based on a person’s web searches.