How does a U.S. Senate candidate follow the release of tax returns that show her family’s annual income in 2010 was nearly $35 million? Or that she and her husband spent nearly $200,000 on household help — three or four times the household income of a more typical couple in Connecticut?
If you are Republican Linda McMahon, you run a new television ad that reaches back before she and her husband, Vince, became wealthy building World Wrestling Entertainment into a successful entertainment and media franchise. Her new ad reminds voters of exactly how far she has come.
“You may not know, but before I had success in business, before I helped create hundreds of jobs here in Connecticut, my husband and I had to declare bankruptcy, and we lost our home,” McMahon says, looking into the camera, as a mournful piano plays softy.
“Those were difficult times for my family,” she says, as an old snapshot of the couple and their children flashes on screen. “And I will never forget the lessons I learned about hard work, luck and never giving up.”
“I’m Linda McMahon, and I approve this message, because I know what it’s like to struggle, and how urgent it is to fight to get our economy working again.”
McMahon’s bankruptcy is not a new element of her campaign biography. She frequently used it in 2010 as a counterweight to the attention garnered by her lavish spending on her previous campaign, which totaled more than $50 million of her own funds. It is part of her story in 2012.
Her campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, said the timing of the new ad — it will be seen on broadcast and cable channels beginning Thursday morning — has nothing to do with last week’s release of her state and federal tax returns.
Those returns show the McMahons paid $4.7 million in federal taxes on an adjusted gross income of $30.6 million, most of which was investment income, for an effective tax rate of 15.35 percent. Before adjustments, the McMahons had income of $34.6 million, including $2.7 million in tax-exempt interest and $1.36 million in pensions or annuities.
“This was always, we believed, an important thing to tell,” Murtaugh said. “Yes, she is very successful now, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s an important part of her story.”
It also is an incomplete part of her story. Aside from docket entries noting a bankruptcy filed in 1976, other records of the 36-year-old case are not available, giving the media and public no sense of how far the McMahons fell into debt or how much of a debt was wiped clean.
McMahon has not released any bankruptcy records. Murtaugh says she has none to release.
But the bankruptcy remains a powerful symbol for McMahon, who now lives in a Greenwich mansion and is described by a Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, as not understanding middle-class concerns.
McMahon has talked about being pregnant with her daughter during the bankruptcy.
She is not alone in emphasizing humble beginnings on the campaign trail. Murphy is the son of the managing partner of a prominent downtown Hartford law firm, but the parent he most often references is his mother, who grew up in public housing in New Britain.
Aside from her bankruptcy, McMahon also talks about her modest upbringing in North Carolina, where her parents were civilian employees of the nearby Marine air station at Cherry Point.
“She does know what it’s like to struggle,” Murtaugh said.
He said the new ad would be coming out even if her tax returns didn’t become public last week.
“This was independent of the tax return issue,” Murtaugh said. “It was always the plan to let Linda tell her story.”