By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Connecticut Republicans decided Friday night to give former wrestling executive Linda McMahon a second shot, endorsing her again as the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The Greenwich multimillionaire garnered the support of 730 or more than 60 percent of the 1,208 delegates who voted at Friday night’s convention. But her lead rival for the party’s backing, former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, won 389 votes or about 32 percent of the delegates, well more than the 15 percent needed to secure a spot on the Aug. 14 primary ballot.
The GOP had tapped McMahon over former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons in the 2010 convention, as well. But after spending about $50 million of her own money, she lost to Democrat Richard Blumenthal by 12 percentage points.
McMahon said she plans to wage a different campaign with a grassroots focus this time, and wants to make sure that the voters really get to know her and her personal story.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s my motto and we’re definitely going to bring this home,” she said. “This was first round. As far as I’m concerned, tonight was the first poll and it is the first step in the process. I’m very happy to have this kind of support from the convention because it helps with the base.”
McMahon supporters tried to make it clear during Friday’s convention that some of the issues that dogged her during the 2010 race _ such as her unpopularity with many female voters and criticisms of WWE, formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment _ should not to be a problem this year. Four women participated in McMahon’s nominating speeches, including the leader of the latest Women for Linda campaign, praising her as a job creator with the right experience to change Washington.
And one supporter, Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia, questioned why McMahon’s business record should even be an issue. She’s the former CEO of WWE.
“I always thought that self-initiative, hard work and free enterprise were part of the foundations that our party was built on, and no one in this party should have to apologize for being successful,” Moccia said.
But Shays supporters tried to make the argument that Republicans shouldn’t back McMahon again.
“Why would we throw away our chances to win by nominating someone other than Christopher Shays,” asked Robert Poliner, a former state Republican Party chairman. “Why be so reckless with our votes? Connecticut citizens do not admire or vote for people who recklessly do anything, least of all throw away their own votes or their own money. We have a chance to make history.”
He pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll that showed Shays is a stronger candidate in the general election against U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democrats’ endorsed Senate candidate.
Shays, who represented the 5th Congressional District for 21 years until he was defeated in 2008, said he was told by some of the delegates that felt obligated to back McMahon because they committed to her before he jumped into the race last fall. He said some of those delegates pledged to help him win the primary. Shays said he believes he has a good chance considering McMahon lost the general election last time.
“Everyone had the siren call that money could buy an election. It can’t. It cannot buy an election,” he said. “We’re going to have a good race.”
State GOP chairman Jerry Labriola said he believes the Republicans have “a golden opportunity” to send one of the GOP Senate candidates to Washington in November and he believes “one of those candidates will be our next U.S. senator.” Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate election in Connecticut in 30 years, since former Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. was elected.
The three other Republican candidates did not garner the necessary 15 percent to win a spot in the primary. However, former Judge Advocate General attorney Brian K. Hill of Hartford, Fairfield attorney Peter Lumaj, and Southbury attorney Kie Westby could still collect signatures to get onto the ballot.
While the final tallies were being made, McMahon made the rounds of the Connecticut Convention Center, chatting with delegates with her famous family in tow, including her Vince McMahon of WWE fame, her son Shane, daughter Stephanie and her husband Paul Levesque, a wrestler known as Triple H. Some delegates posed for photos with them.
At one point, as delegates began leaving the convention hall when the hour grew late, McMahon took the microphone and thanked the remaining delegates from the floor for their support. As some of her supporters chanted “no primary, no primary,” McMahon said she believed the key to defeating the Democrats in November will be to solidify the Republican base.
Last weekend, the Democrats endorsed Murphy, from the 5th congressional district. Murphy still faces a primary challenge from former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.
In a written statement, Murphy congratulated McMahon on her endorsement and Shays on winning enough support to wage a primary.
“This will be an incredibly important election for our state and for our country, one that will make the difference between Republicans and Democrats very clear,” he said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)