Richard Blumenthal withstood a Republican wave, misstatements over his Vietnam-era service and the record $50 million budget of his self-financed opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, to keep Christopher J. Dodd’s U.S. Senate seat in Democratic hands tonight.
“Thank you for putting your trust, your confidence and your support in me. I am grateful, as is my family,” Blumenthal told his cheering supporters at the Hartford Hilton. “And thank you for letting me keep fighting for you.”
McMahon’s 14-month quest for a U.S. Senate seat came to an end shortly after 10 p.m. when she conceded to Blumenthal, who she had derided as a liar and a career politician. But the Republican wrestling magnate pledged to her supporters that she is “not going to fade into the woodwork.”
The remark immediately prompted speculation about her willingness to consider running again in 2012, when Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is up for re-election. She did nothing to discourage that speculation in talking to reporters.
“The people of Connecticut have selected who their senator is going to be tonight, but stay tuned,” she said.
Would she run in 2012?
“I don’t know. Ask me in 2012,” McMahon responded.
She ruled out a return to World Wrestling Entertainment, where she had been chief executive.”You can’t step out of WWE and expect to come back in, because it moves forward and it’s moving forward at a great pace,” she said. “I wouldn’t try to step back in there.”
A composed McMahon, who spent more than twice as much money as any previous candidate in Connecticut, had ended her concession speech by urging the crowd at the Connecticut Convention Center to enjoy the rest of the evening, announcing that she intended to “party down.”
Minutes after she finished her remarks, Blumenthal took to the stage across town at the Hilton. His victory speech centered on a theme he made familiar during the campaign, recounting his battles for state residents as attorney general. He promised to take those fights to Washington.
“Every day in this campaign someone said to me Washington isn’t listening,” Blumenthal said. “I’ll tell you, I’m listening, and I will make Washington listen.”
He left without taking questions from reporters.
Unofficial results had Blumenthal beating McMahon, 52 percent to 46 percent.
Several news organizations had declared Blumenthal the winner earlier in the evening based on exit polling, producing an anticlimactic ending to a nationally-watched race that kicked off more than a year ago.
McMahon entered the race in September 2009, when she thought a politically-wounded Dodd would be her opponent.
But when the five-term incumbent opted to retire, Blumenthal entered the race within hours, debuting with a 37-point lead over McMahon. His candidacy was badly wounded in May by a New York Times story revealing that Blumenthal, a stateside Marine Reservist during the war, had on two occasions referred to service in Vietnam.
He apologized for what eventually turned out to be five instances of falsely referring to service in Vietnam, all since 2003. Polling showed most voters accepted his explanation that he had misstated his record, which he had correctly described in his official biography and numerous other speeches.
McMahon spent nearly $50 million of her own money seeking the seat held by Dodd for 30 years, making the contest the most expensive Senate race in the country. But her spending–with wall-to-wall political ads and a flood of campaign mailers–turned off many voters, includuing some independent women, a critical voting bloc.
McMahon was also unable to shake questions about her tenure at WWE. Blumenthal and other critics sought to highlight the use of steriods by WWE performers and the entertainment company’s degrading portray of women, among other things.
Her husband, Vince McMahon, ramped up his profile in the race in the closing weeks by launching a “Stand Up for WWE” campaign, an effort to respond to what he said were distortions and “elitism” by the media and his wife’s political opponents in their attacks on the company.
On Tuesday night, Linda McMahon flatly rejected suggestions that WWE’s efforts were a mistake or a distraction from her Senate bid.
WWE “got knocked around and was terribly maligned during this whole campaign,” Linda McMahon said. “I am totally 100 percent proud of the company that I was CEO of … and will not make any apologies–at all, ever” for WWE.
She also declined to engage in any second-guessing about whether her campaign had spent too much money or been too aggressive.
“As I stand her tonight, I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” she said. “I think we ran a really solid campaign.”