Connecticut, until recently a Democratic stronghold, now ranks among the battleground states—along with Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin and Maine—deciding the future control of the Senate. And with only a month to go before Election Day, the Senate race is a dead heat, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday.
Chiefly through a storm of advertising, Republican Linda McMahon has gained a slight edge over her Democratic opponent, Rep. Chris Murphy. She calls him "Wall Street's lapdog" and compares his congressional truancy record to Ferris Bueller's high-school attendance sheet.
McMahon's attacks, funded by her personal fortune—she and her husband, Vince McMahon, own World Wrestling Entertainment—have been relentless, but Murphy's have become arguably even more severe as he scrambles to counterpunch. On his website, for instance, Murphy suggests that a WWE policy may have contributed to the deaths of nine wrestlers.
"She's someone who arrives with a lot of baggage, as far as how she made all her money she's now using," Shripal Shah, a national Democratic strategist, told Yahoo News.
Recently endowed with $320,000 from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Murphy has also shot back with charges about McMahon's business dealings, her personal character and, most aggressively, her record as head of the WWE.
Murphy's campaign charges her with putting "profits before people" by abolishing steroid testing (the policy linked to the nine deaths), as well as irresponsibly inserting "death clauses" in WWE wrestlers' contracts to excuse her company from the deaths of other employees, such as Owen Hart, who died in the ring after a harness snapped and dropped him 78 feet.
Still, the Quinnipiac poll suggests that so far the three-term congressman's push-back hasn't kept his opponent from advancing.
But Shah said McMahon's momentum has peaked. "She had all summer [practically] to herself on the airwaves—with that, you can make it to 45-48 in the polls fairly easily, but getting past that is unlikely."
Shah added that "Linda McMahon spent millions of dollars in 2010 [when she also ran for the Senate], lying about [Sen.] Richard Blumenthal only to go on and lose by 12 points in the best year Republicans had seen in generations. Now she is doing the same thing to Chris Murphy, and voters are certain to reject her once again."
Todd Abrajano, communications director for McMahon's campaign, dismisses the idea that his candidate has hit a "ceiling" of support in the blue state. "Independent polling has shown that this race is extremely close. So the assessment that there's been a peak, there's no evidence of that," he said.
Going forward, this Senate race might produce its own version of a "video bombshell," akin to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's "47 percent" faux pas. In Murphy's new line of attack, he cites a tape from April that shows McMahon discussing Social Security at a Tea Party Patriots forum, seizing upon her line that she'd consider "sunset provisions" for the program.
McMahon's campaign accuses Murphy of citing the quote out of context. "Linda McMahon has been clear that she will never vote for a budget that takes away benefits to seniors or soon-to-be retirees," said Abrajano.