A heavyweight battle royal is shaping up in Connecticut, where a November Quinnipiac poll showed incumbent Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd trailing Republican challenger Rob Simmons, 49 percent to 38 percent. Even more ominous for the Democrats: The survey shows that after five terms in the Senate, Dodd registered a 54 percent disapproval rating with his home state voters.
The dissatisfaction with Dodd has roots in ethics questions regarding his having received special treatment for mortgage applications at the now-defunct Countrywide Financial Corp. Just as the Wall Street financial institution's crisis was reaching its peak, Dodd's name surfaced on a list of people on a "VIP Program." (Internally, the list was called "Friends of Angelo," after Angelo R. Mozilo, Countrywide's founder – and Democratic donor – who had the dubious distinction of being No. 3 on Time magazine's list of the 25 people most responsible for the nation's financial meltdown
.) Dodd insists that he never sought – and was unaware of – any special deal with Countrywide, but it is a matter of record that the lender waived its fees on a $506,000 mortgage for Dodd's Capitol Hill townhouse, as well as a $275,000 mortgage on his Connecticut home.
As Connecticut Democrats were beginning to think they weathered that storm, Dodd was fingered as the senator most responsible for weakening the provision in the Obama administration's stimulus package that would have curtailed the large bonuses to AIG and other bad actors on Wall Street.
So this should be a likely Republican pickup in 2010, right? The answer is maybe. Rob Simmons, a onetime CIA agent and former congressman would be an obvious handful for Dodd. Unfortunately for Republicans, however, Simmons may not get the match with Dodd at all. The real "smackdown" is taking place in the Republican primary, where Simmons is being challenged for the nomination by Linda McMahon, a multi-millionaire who has never held elective office. She may be Dodd's best hope.
McMahon is the wife of controversial World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) owner Vince McMahon, and serves as the chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. The couple jointly owns an 88 percent majority of the WWE, and a 2002 London Telegraph profile placed their total fortune at $850 million. In other words, she can spend her own money if she wants to. And it appears she wants just that: based on expenditure reports, McMahon has already spent more than $3.5 million on the race, and is reportedly planning to spend at least $30 million to win.
Were she a traditional candidate, McMahon's past political behavior, which includes donating money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in 2006 (when it defeated two Connecticut Republican congressmen), would probably undermine her campaign. But she is anything but a traditional candidate, and $30 million worth of TV ads and voter mail can overcome a lot.
Because of Dodd's poor polling and recent scandal, some Connecticut Democrats are suggesting it might be best for him to retire now – and allow another Democrat to replace him on the ballot. But some Dodd loyalists believe a McMahon primary victory may be the key to his salvation.
One thing is clear, should McMahon win the nomination, Dodd and the Democrats would try to use her involvement in the seedy business of pro-wrestling against her (currently, her TV ads mention she operated a highly successful business with her husband, but do not mention the faux wrestling). In addition, it is likely that some social conservatives would be turned off by McMahon – and decide stay home in a general election.
Although wrestling matches have become more "PG" of late (is it a coincidence their more family-oriented image coincides with her campaign?), the WWE's fairly recent decision to hire 2008 Playboy magazine Model of the Year Jillian Beyor as a WWE "diva"
may pose problems for McMahon. This could be especially so considering that, according to the WWE
's Web site, the organization targets young viewers. As the Web site boasts, "WWE reached more kids under age 18 during the average week than the total day average deliveries of Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon combined."
Aside from selling sex, pro wrestling has been tainted by a variety of scandals over the years, including advocating violence and rampant steroid abuse among their wrestlers. Moreover, while McMahon's pro wrestling background might turn off voters on the right, she could simultaneously be portrayed by Dodd and the Democrats as a wealthy and exploitive business owner.
Case in point: There are currently about 200 professional wrestlers under contract with the WWE, but WWE wrestlers receive no paid vacations, pensions, or benefits – despite the fact that there is no "off season" in the "sport." In this narrative, pro wrestling is essentially a sweatshop where workers abuse their own bodies by laboring 50 weeks a year, with little time off for recovery. And with health care being the big issue this year, one can imagine that the WWE not providing health care for wrestlers might just make it into a Dodd TV ad.
What is more, according to Dave Meltzer
, founder and editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, from 1997 to 2007 more than 60 wrestlers died before they turned 50. To put it in perspective, this would be tantamount to 430 NFL players dying prematurely every decade. Already, former wrestling star Superstar Billy Graham has publicly gone after McMahon, telling The Hartford Courant, "Linda McMahon's hands are as bloody as her husband's because she is aware of every move in the ring."
And it's very possible Graham may not be the only WWE star to speak out. According to England's The Sun newspaper, "a number of top former WWE superstars are set to turn on" Linda McMahon.
Just as is the case in Nevada, where Republicans are battling it out for the chance to challenge Majority Leader Harry Reid, a nasty GOP primary in Connecticut threatens to ruin the GOP's chances to oust an incumbent Democratic senator. This fight will be a bloody affair, to be sure, and we're not talking about those ubiquitous ketchup packets that wrestlers use to make it look real.