Naugatuck – U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon ambled through the Senior Center, stopping for hugs and photos, and chatting with women about the coupons they offer fellow seniors looking to save on cat food, soap and toilet paper.
“You’d be surprised, people take them,” said Lucie Morrissette, who organizes the coupons weekly and also delivers day-old bread and pastry three times a week from the Super Stop & Shop. “They help out.”
McMahon, a Republican who personally financed her $50 million campaign for U.S. Senate two years ago, lingered by the coupon table, talking with Morrissette and her friend, Doris Lacourse, the center’s BINGO caller, about economizing.
“I grew up that way,” said McMahon, who is writing big personal checks again for a new Senate campaign, this time against a three-term Democratic congressman, Chris Murphy.
It was all smiles for McMahon on Tuesday until asked by a reporter about Mitt Romney’s dismissive comments of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income taxes, which includes elderly who live off Social Security.
“I just totally disagreed with it,” said McMahon, who has kept her distance from Romney, whose name will precede hers on the ballot. “I mean, gosh, there are folks that are struggling. I just couldn’t disagree with Gov. Romney any more about that.”
But the Murphy campaign countered with video of remarks McMahon made to WTNH last September after she announced her candidacy.
“I’d like to see everyone pay their fair share,” McMahon said. “Forty-seven percent of the people today don’t pay any taxes, so let’s have a fair tax code where everybody pays their taxes.”
Absent from McMahon’s remarks were Romney’s caustic suggestion that many of those Americans were living office the government, believing “they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
McMahon was wrong in saying 47 percent of Americans don’t pay any taxes. While approximately that number don’t pay federal income taxes, many of them do pay payroll taxes that support Social Security and Medicare.
The candidate was quick to denounce Romney, but she was less comfortable in discussing whether the Senate has a role to play in addressing economic inequality in the U.S. economy.
Productivity is up, but wages are flat. According to the AFL-CIO, the wages of Fortune 500 chief executives were 42 times greater than rank and file employees in 1980. They are now 380 times greater.
McMahon would only talk about the economy in general.
“I think if we can make sure our economy is stimulated, we’re going to get more people in the work force,” she said,
That stimulation includes cutting corporate taxes, and keeping the top income-tax rate at 35 percent.
None of the seniors asked her about Romney or economic inequality or her opposition two years ago to extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, unless they also were extended for the richest Americans.
Here, she was greeted like an old friend.
“They talk to me. They want to hug me. They want to kiss me. I think that’s wonderful. They make me feel so warm,” McMahon said. “You’d have to want to walk out of here really on a high from that kind of emotion.”
As she passed by, Margo Scott, one of the regulars, said, “She knows what we need, and what we want.
Exit polling in 2008 and 2010 showed a majority of the elderly voting Republican, and recent national polling shows older voters favoring Romney over President Obama. It is a demographic McMahon hopes to capture.
On Tuesday, McMahon generated a buzz in the Senior Center. Over two campaigns, she has branded herself as “Linda,” an invitation to voters to be familiar, to greet her by first name, to hug and to kiss.
And they do.
A woman bent low over a walker trailed McMahon, intent on a hug.
“She’s getting away from me,” the woman said finally, complaining to McMahon’s back. Surprised, McMahon turned and said, “How are you? I didn’t mean to make you chase after me.”
The old woman couldn’t stand straight, so McMahon leaned awkwardly to hug her.
Her progress through the Senior Center, which hosted an open house Tuesday, was slowed by requests to pose for pictures.
It was a request McMahon often encountered in 2010, when she entered the race as a celebrity, at least to fans of World Wrestling Entertainment, the company she co-founded with her husband, Vince McMahon.
After closing within 3 percentage points in one late poll McMahon ultimately lost by 12 percentage points to Blumenthal, a household name after serving for 20 years as a press-savvy state attorney general.
In her second campaign, McMahon has relied on retail politicking, much of it out of the eye of reporters. She has not regularly released her campaign schedule this year, nor has Murphy.
Murphy’s campaign declined Monday and Tuesday to release the whereabouts of their candidate, who has struggled to contain fallout from disclosures about lawsuits against him in 2003 and 2007 about missed rental and mortgage payments.
McMahon was trailed for part of the day Tuesday by reporters for The Mirror, Associated Press, WFSB and the Daily Caller, all of whom had brief interviews with the GOP nominee.
McMahon slowly made her way around the Senior Center, crowded for an open house that offered a free box lunch to the first 125 attendees and information on everything from casino excursions to pre-paid funerals.
At a crafts table, McMahon spent $40 on a doll outfitted in hand-knit Irish clothing.
“One of my three little granddaughters will be very happy,” McMahon said. “The other two will fight over it.”
She seemed puzzled to see two soldiers from the U.S. Army recruiting station in Waterbury manning an information desk. One sergeant told her they were there to mingle with older veterans, not to seek recruits.
He and his partner then asked to pose for a picture, as did the representatives of an assisted living center. McMahon nodded hello to the men selling pre-paid funerals, but didn’t linger there for a picture.