Groton — Sooner or later, every candidate for statewide office ends up at the gate of Electric Boat, trying to the shake the hands of men hell-bent on going home. It was Linda McMahon’s turn Wednesday.
On the hottest day of the year, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate waited on a sun-baked sidewalk, squinting at a stampede of first shift workers rushing up a hill toward the gate. She took a last sip of water, then smiled.
“How are you?” McMahon yelled, stretching out a manicured, if slightly damp right hand toward the leading edge of the human wave. “Good to see you!”
A trip to the main gate of Electric Boat is a nod to the political and economic importance of submarines, whose construction by EB generates 8,400 jobs on site and thousands more by subcontractors as far away as Hartford County. The nearby sub base produces 10,000 jobs.
It is a pilgrimage to a bastion of well-paying union jobs that McMahon, a co-founder and former chief executive of Stamford’s World Wrestling Entertainment, did not make during her unsuccessful 2010 race for U.S. Senate against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
Two years later, McMahon is running again, this time for the seat open by the approaching retirement of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. And the main gate of EB made the itinerary a few hours before the first day of summer, seven weeks before the Aug. 14 GOP primary.
McMahon knew the protocol.
First, she must stay behind a painted blue line that marks the boundary between what is public and what is a defense plant, off-limits to electioneering. Second, she had to be ready to sidestep the occasional worker whose gazed is fixed on a distant parking lot or the bright green awning of the Aloha Teriyaki Grill beckoning across Eastern Point Road.
“I’ve got the right moves,” McMahon said, laughing as she danced between the exiting workers, most of whom didn’t break stride, even if they accepted the offer of a handshake.
The gate is no place to talk issues, or even to ask a voter’s name
“Listen, I know exactly how that works,” she said. “You can wave. A lot of folks will come over and say hello. But I’m not trying to be intrusive.”
On Wednesday afternoon, McMahon found a mixed reception from a workforce that one friendly worker warned tilts Democratic.
(McMahon will meet a more overtly political union audience Monday: She is among the candidates scheduled to address the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s political convention.)
As a Republican who works among Democrats, the worker said, he preferred not to give his name.
“I can’t give you my name. It’s a defense plant. Organized labor supports Democrats,” said the man, who identified himself as a resident of Thompson. “We don’t talk about politics in there, because we end up getting in arguments.”
An attempt at small talk with one worker trudging up the hill behind the Republican fell flat.
“The hardest work today may be that hill, huh?” McMahon said brightly. The man offered no audible response.
But a beefy, white-haired man behind him smiled.
“You look prettier than on TV,” he said. The candidate laughed and told him, “I’d like to give you a kiss right here.”
“Go ahead,” he said.
She hesitated only briefly before embracing him.
A woman, one of the few in the exiting tide of men, told McMahon she was a supporter: “I got my bumper stickers in the mail, waiting for my street signs.”
“I thank you for that,” McMahon said.
As the first wave of workers thinned, there was an opportunity to engage.
“Nice to see you, Linda McMahon,” she said, introducing herself to one lone worker.
“I knew that, from all the way down there, at the bottom of the hill,” the worker said. He didn’t break stride, but he smiled and told her, “You have my vote.”
“You see? That’s my favorite,” McMahon said. “Come over and say hello. Tell me I have their support, they are voting for me.”
Another told her, “I hope they make you president, I really do.”
That was followed by man who didn’t acknowledge her greeting or make eye contact.
No support there.
“Probably not,” McMahon said.
The next worker was pleasant, but poker faced.
“How are you, sir?” she said. “I’m Linda McMahon.”
“I know,” he replied, his expression deadpan.
To the next, she added, “Love to have your vote.”
He shook his head. He was a voter in Rhode Island, not Connecticut. McMahon urged him to talk to his Connecticut friends.
“Sure,” he said.
McMahon began the day in Eastford, where she talked to an orchard owner having difficulty getting immigration approval for temporary workers.
No one has asked her opinion of President Obama’s decision to stop the deportations of many young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, but she expected that to change Wednesday night.
She would meet privately in Hartford that night with Latina women, one in a series of “Conversations with Linda,” an outreach effort to women that generally are closed to the press.
“On a policy level, I think there’s something in there,” McMahon said of the policy change. “I think that’s probably good thinking. I just question the timing of it.”
Her stop at the Electric Boat gate was the only campaign event publicized Wednesday by any of the candidates for Senate. With a financial reporting quarter about to end, most candidates will spend a good portion of the waning days of June trying to raise money.
McMahon, who is independently wealthy, doesn’t have the same financial pressures. She wrote four big checks to her campaign in just the first two weeks of May: $1.2 million and $518,00 on the 2nd and 3rd, and $750,000 and $518,00 on the 11th and 12th.
In 2010, she spent $50 million of her own money. She had spent nearly $4 million by the end of April, before committing millions more to TV commercials that aired in May and June.
On Wednesday afternoon, the only expense was for bottled water, and it wouldn’t cost anything for her to be heard on a local radio station, WXLM, whose reporter asked just one question: “Is there anything you want to say?”
“I’m just happy to be out here in the sunshine today, saying hello to the folks who are going in and out,” McMahon said. “It’s a hot day, folks coming up the hill. I’m just catching them coming out. I’m such a supporter of our sub base here.”