Closing Fast: How Linda McMahon’s Millions Have Made A Real Race In Connecticut

So what exactly is going on in Connecticut, the seat where 30-year incumbent Democrat Chris Dodd is retiring? It was widely believed since Dodd’s retirement that this would be an easy hold for Dem state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. But the latest polls show Republican former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon making up ground – and conventional wisdom has been moving accordingly.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Bringing The Smackdown: Linda McMahon’s Campaign For Senate, And Her Colorful Pro-Wrestling Past]

When Dodd announced his retirement back in January, the first survey numbers from Public Policy Polling (D) showed Blumenthal way ahead of McMahon by a margin of 60%-28%, compared to Dodd only tying her at 43%-43%. A Quinnipiac poll taken soon after gave Blumenthal a similar lead of 64%-23%. But now a Quinnipiac poll from last week had McMahon narrowing the gap to just 51%-45%.

The TPM Poll Average currently gives Blumenthal a narrow lead of 50.3%-43.0%. And as the graph below shows, he has been losing support – and she has been gaining — each with very even and consistent slopes.

Last week, the Cook Report changed its rating on the race, from Leans Democrat to Toss-Up. A major reason for this was McMahon’s closing the gap — and a major reason for that is her multi-million dollar self-financing.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Bringing The Smackdown: Linda McMahon’s Campaign For Senate, And Her Colorful Pro-Wrestling Past]

As campaign finance disclosures show, McMahon put $21.5 million of her own money into the campaign as of mid-July, out of $22.1 million in total fundraising, and the campaign spent a whopping $21.3 million. By contrast, Blumemthal had raised only $3.5 million and spent $1.4 million, with no self-financing involved.

As the Cook Report said: “Much of McMahon’s progress can be attributed to her constant presence on the air with television ads that have been running for months across the state, including in the expensive New York media market. Not only will she remain on the air for the next seven weeks, but the campaign’s buys are likely to increase. Blumenthal has run ads intermittently, though they’ve been more consistent over the past couple of weeks.”

To be sure, both candidates have weaknesses. For Blumenthal, it is the story from earlier this year that he had previously misstated his military service, implying that he had served in Vietnam when he had not. For McMahon, it is the workplace record of WWE — and the fact that some of its actors have died young as a result of accidents, injuries or drug abuse — not to mention the work she has done to free herself from its less than family-friendly stories.

A Democratic source familiar with the race told TPMDC that the Blumenthal campaign would be focusing on two fronts in the home stretch of the campaign — touting his record of serving Connecticut residents in key cases, and focusing attention on McMahon’s company. “We can’t match her dollar for dollar,” the source said. “But Blumenthal has something that she does not have, and that’s 20 years of working for the people of Connecticut. and we make it clearer and clearer you’ve got a public servant…and she’s put her profits first, that’s how we’re gonna counter it.”