The Hartford Courant (MCT)
HARTFORD, Conn.: After Connecticut’s most expensive and bitterest political campaign, voters on Tuesday chose Democrat Chris Murphy as the state’s newest U.S. senator, once again rejecting multimillionaire former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, the Republican nominee.
McMahon sunk nearly $44 million of her vast fortune in her quest to win the open seat — on top of the $50 million she spent on her unsuccessful 2010 Senate bid — but all that money was unable to overcome the structural disadvantage faced by Republican candidates in deep-blue Connecticut.
The race will go down as the costliest campaign in the state’s history. In addition to McMahon’s hefty investment, Murphy raised about $10 million and outside groups flooded the state with an addition $10 million. Much of that money was spent by labor unions, abortion-rights advocates and national Democratic groups who backed Murphy, but McMahon also benefited from ads bankrolled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative groups.
The campaign derived much of its intensity from the fact that it was one of just a few that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. It brought a string of high-profile surrogates to Connecticut, including former President Bill Clinton for Murphy and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for McMahon.
Murphy also got a boost from the highest profile Democratic surrogate: President Barack Obama, who appeared in a television ad endorsing Murphy.
The son of a lawyer and a public school teacher, Murphy, 39, grew up in Wethersfield and earned a law degree from the University of Connecticut. He made his first run for public office in 1997, winning a seat on the Southington planning and zoning commission, and continued to ascend the political ladder. He was elected to Congress from the state’s 5th District in 2006, unseating 12-term incumbent Nancy Johnson.
When Sen. Joe Lieberman announced his retirement in January of 2011, Murphy was immediately tagged as the front-runner to succeed him.
Early in the campaign, it appeared personal issues would shape the contest. Murphy, who was largely unknown to vast swaths of the electorate, was painted by McMahon as a legislative lightweight who skipped out on important hearings in Washington.
Murphy was also hurt by revelations that he was sued for foreclosure in 2007, and for failing to pay his rent in 2003. McMahon alleged he received a special mortgage deal from a local bank that benefited from a bailout that he supported.
Murphy acknowledged he “made mistakes” and was sloppy with his personal finances, although never fully explained how many mortgage payments he missed prior to the foreclosure action. However the attacks were somewhat muted when records came to light showing that McMahon was late on property tax payments several times over the past two decades.
For much of the fall, polls projected a tight race. An August Quinnipiac University survey showed McMahon holding a three-point lead; by mid-September, the candidates were essentially tied.
Then came a series of televised debates, where Murphy was seen as more in command of the issues, and matters of personal character took a back seat.