NEW HAVEN – The Fair Haven section of  the city isn’t exactly a Republican stronghold, but Linda McMahon was warmly welcomed as she took her U.S. Senate campaign on a tour of local businesses.

“She’s new blood, and she’s got a lot of experience in business,” said Orlando Rivera, an employee at Italy’s Best Pizza on Grand Avenue, after a brief visit from McMahon Thursday. Rivera said he tends to vote Democrat, but is undecided on the Senate race and considering McMahon. “She doesn’t have to do this,” he said, referring to her personal fortune, “but she’s doing it because she loves it.”

McMahon on tour 9-24-10

Linda McMahon greets an employee at a grocery in Fairhaven (Uma Ramiah)

The Republican nominee has spent millions of her own money in Connecticut, spreading the message that she’ll support small business if she’s elected.  In person and on television, McMahon regularly refers to her own business acumen as part of the husband-wife team that built the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment empire.

Fair Haven residents, gathered to watch the tour, were generally supportive. This section of New Haven, a largely Latino neighborhood, tends to vote Democrat. But whether it was the celebrity presence of the former head of the WWE or her stated policies, locals were enthusiastic about McMahon.

“Whether you’re selling chips, or whether you’re providing another kind of product that people have to buy tickets for,” McMahon said during a stop at a corner beauty shop, “it’s about how you’re running your business and what kind of taxes you have to pay, and what regulations can impact you negatively in that business.”

McMahon spent just over an hour touring small businesses on the block, often exchanging greetings with workers and managers who spoke only Spanish.

“I’m really trying to become better known, in the Spanish community through outreach like this, just walking up and down the streets and saying hello. Then it becomes more of a recognition factor, and I think that’s important.”

McMahon acknowledged that her Hispanic outreach is hampered by the fact that she doesn’t speak Spanish. She also hadn’t heard of Elm City Resident Cards, issued to illegal immigrants for their protection and to allow access to certain services in New Haven. The cards are popular in the neighborhood, but McMahon was firm about her policy on immigration.

“I think you need to be here as someone who has abided by the laws, or you’re an illegal immigrant so you have to abide by the laws of the land.”

Still, many of the residents she visited had taken her campaign’s messages to heart. Immy Khan, a contractor working with his wife to build a dentist’s office on Grand Avenue, sounded one of McMahon’s favorite criticisms of Democratic nominee, Richard Blumenthal: “He’s been in politics, while she’s been on the forefront of business. She has a better understanding of what our needs are because she’s been there.”

Khan, a resident of Hamden, said he and his wife had trouble finding the capital necessary to start their small business. McMahon, he thinks, will provide relief to people like them. “A person will do well if they’ve experienced it themselves,” he said.

Moussa Ugurlu, owner of another stop on the tour, a small technology retailer called TurqCell, said the issues affecting him were the income tax, the business climate in the state and health care. “I pay almost 33% income tax. If you combine with the state tax, that’s almost 40% of your income. That’s killer,” he said.

Ugurlu wasn’t sure he would vote for McMahon come November. “I’m still thinking about it, I’m checking her background,” he said. “But why not? We need someone doing good business. She was successful.”

Perhaps the most enthusiastic supporter of the day was Aaron Vignola, a 21-year-old hairdresser who encountered McMahon on her tour. Vignola, a fan of WWE since the age of 15, had a question about a WWE sketch in which McMahon fired an actor with some vigor: “Did you really kick that guy in the balls?”

“You know, WWE is scripted entertainment,” she said, laughing.

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