McMahon vs. Shays: Can You Smell What Connecticut’s Cooking?

Photograph by Stephan Savoia/AP Photo

Connecticut Republican Senate candidates, former wrestling executive Linda McMahon and former Rep. Christopher Shays before their Senate debate on the University of Connecticut campus on June 14, 2012.

Written by Leslie Hoffecker and Derek Wallbank for BGov’s Congress Tracker

A wrestling entrepreneur seeking a second go-round in the senatorial ring, a four-term governor hoping for a political comeback and two House incumbents — one a powerful committee chairman and the other finishing her first term — battling it out for a redrawn district are the marquee events in tonight’s primaries in Connecticut, Wisconsin and Florida.

There’s a House primary race in Minnesota that could be competitive as well.

Connecticut Senate: “Let’s get ready to rumble” might be the catchphrase of tonight’s Republican Senate primary, as Linda McMahon, the co-founder and former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, takes on former congressman Chris Shays for the right to run for the seat being vacated by the retirement of independent Joe Lieberman.

This is McMahon’s second quest for a Senate seat; she won the GOP nomination in 2010 and lost in the general election to Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the state attorney general. This year polls have her ahead of Shays, who served in the House for 21 years before losing to Democrat Jim Himes in 2008. Like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, McMahon is putting her business experience — as head of a multimillion-dollar entertainment empire — front and center. Unlike her last Senate campaign, where the $50 million spent was almost all her own money, this time around she’s concentrating on grass-roots efforts and voter outreach. Her campaign has spent $11 million from Jan. 1, 2011, to July 25 of this year, according to Federal Election Commission records — about $7 million of it provided by the candidate.

Wisconsin Senate: Former four-term governor Tommy Thompson is hoping for a political comeback as he vies with three opponents for the Republican nomination to the Senate seat now held by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl.

In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, politics is rewarding confrontation over conciliation — as evidenced by Governor Scott Walker’s success in the recent recall battle sparked by his support for curbs on public employee collective bargaining — and Thompson’s history of compromising with Democrats may not play well in a state where the Tea Party movement is strong. His opponents for the GOP nomination include banker and investor Eric Hovde, former congressman Mark Neumann and State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. The winner will face Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who currently represents the state capital, Madison, and the surrounding area, in the House.

Florida’s 7th District: The current House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, John Mica, faces a fight to return to the House in a primary against freshman Sandy Adams, a former deputy sheriff who carried the House Republicans’ Violence Against Women bill, H.R. 4970.

Both Mica and Adams have attempted to paint the other as insufficiently conservative, and the race has divided Tea Party-embracing Republicans. The Orlando Sentinel has backed Mica, who also held a fundraising lead of $1.6 million to $942,000, while Adams has support from Tea Party heroes Sarah Palin and Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Minnesota’s 8th District: Northern Minnesota was the site of one of 2010’s most surprising upsets, when political unknown Chip Cravaack unseated Jim Oberstar, the long-time chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Three Democrats are running for the chance to take on Cravaack: Rick Nolan, who served in Congress alongside Oberstar from 1975 to 1981; Tarryl Clark, who ran in the 6th District against Republican Michele Bachmann in 2010, moved to Duluth to contest the 8th District; and Jeff Anderson, a Duluth city councilman. Clark has a nearly 3-to-1 fundraising edge as of July 25, raising $1.17 million to $358,000 for Nolan, who won the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party endorsement and is backed by Oberstar, Governor Mark Dayton and every Democratic member of Congress.

 Tim Jones contributed to this report.



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