Newington — All campaigns are theater, and none more so than the back-to-back Senate runs of Linda McMahon, a co-founder and former chief executive officer of the marketing and media juggernaut that is World Wrestling Entertainment.
On Wednesday, McMahon stepped to a microphone in Bruno Zavarella’s woodworking factory, a precisely angled banner above her head proclaiming, “REVIVING the ECONOMY: Linda’s plan to put America back to work.”
It was a long time between press conferences, giving the event the air of an expensive Broadway show back in tryouts after closing to tweak the script. Her senior staff mingled with reporters before the curtain went up.
Chris LaCivita, her new senior consultant, was up from Virginia. Patrick Sullivan, whose lobbying and communication company, Sullivan & LeShane, made $816,000 off her 2010 campaign, made the short drive from Hartford.
McMahon’s last press conference came in the closing weeks of her losing 2010 race. Accepting the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, McMahon was unprepared to give her views on NFIB’s agenda, including freezing the minimum wage.
Her current campaign staff, none of whom were on board in 2010, were able to say with a smile that she was prepped on the minimum wage, the subject that caused such grief. No one asked her to name the current state or federal minimum wages. They haven’t changed since the fall of 2010.
McMahon’s prescription for reviving the economy was largely generic: a middle-class tax cut, a business tax cut, eliminating red tape and corporate tax deductions, and targeted spending cuts of 1 percent of the federal budget.
“Government’s too big. Our debt is exploding. Congress is gridlocked, and here in Connecticut, 150,000 people still woke up this morning to face the day without a job,” McMahon said. “People feel they’ve lost control over their lives and their future.”
She was introduced by Zavarella, who described his struggles in the face of rising health and fuel costs. He used to pay 70 percent of his 21 employees’ health coverage, but he now can only afford 50 percent. Salaries are frozen.
“Here’s what really gets me,” he said. “While businesses aren’t spending, Congress still is. Our government spends way too much money, no one seems willing to make the tough decisions to cut the spending and do what’s best for the country.”
McMahon could make those decisions as a business executive, not a lifelong politician, Zavarella said.
But McMahon is a politician now, making her second run for statewide office.
She was unwilling to say exactly how she would meet Zavarella’s challenge to make those “tough decisions to cut spending.” She stayed clear of the politically dangerous topic of entitlements: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“Clearly, we’re going to have to address entitlements, because we know they are not sustainable, but at this particular point my focus and emphasis today is really to talk about jobs and how we spur the economy,” she said. “This is a plan to really ignite jobs, to get our country back to work, to get more revenue coming in.”
As she did in 2010, McMahon said any cuts to entitlements must come through a bipartisan process in Congress. Her stance is not unlike President Obama’s or other officials standing for election, but McMahon has taken on an added burden with the insistence she is different.
“What’s missing in this debate is the business perspective, the voice of a job creator,” McMahon said. “And unlike professional politicians, I’ve built a business from scratch.”
Her economic plan was outlined and colorfully illustrated in a glossy 14-page booklet. The online version comes with gimmick: a calculator that allows voters to compute how their taxes would change under McMahon’s plan.
It was built by John Dunham and Associates, a consulting firm that develops economic models used by primarily by industry trade groups, such as the National Beer Wholesalers, in lobbying campaigns.
McMahon’s campaign said Dunham’s review of her plan found it would have “a positive budgetary impact of nearly $1.7 trillion between 2013 and 2021, representing higher revenues and lower spending” than in Congressional Budget Office forecasts.
Her plan would cut what she called “the middle-class rate” from 25 percent to 15 percent. The projected top income for the 15 percent bracket in 2013 would be $86,000 for a single filer and $143,000 for a couple.
She also would eliminate the capital gains tax for middle-class filers.
Her plan said a 1 percent reduction in spending doesn’t necessarily mean an across-the-board cut: “Proper budgeting requires setting priorities and making decisions — it is about making trade-offs between competing wants and limited resources.”
McMahon declined to identify those trade-offs.
“I’m not designating where it comes from,” she said. “That 1 percent cut will come across all spending for government.”
But McMahon also indicated she was suspicious of defense cuts, not a novel position in Connecticut, where Pratt & Whitney manufactures military engines, Sikorsky produces military helicopters and Electric Boat makes submarines.
She declined an invitation to offer any acceptable defense cuts.
“I think there is a lot of work going on right now to cut expenses out of the defense budget,” she said. “I am afraid we are getting perilously close at this particular point to affecting our American military, and I don’t want to get there.”
Even without the strategic threat that Russia once posed, McMahon saw the two Virginia-class submarines on order at EB as necessary examples of military muscle, not job-creating pork.
“We should look at it and we should always cut costs with a scalpel,” she said. “I think if you get down to muscle and bone, then you are injurious. You want to cut fat. I think there are always potential areas where you can cut fat.”