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Have voters seen the last of Linda McMahon?

Published 10:09 pm, Wednesday, November 7, 2012
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Inside After grueling campaign, Chris Murphy prepares for shift to the U.S. Senate. Page A3
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Republican Linda McMahon woke up Wednesday not as the first woman U.S. senator-elect from Connecticut, but nursing the kind of political hangover few candidates ever experience.

She spent close to $100 million of her wrestling fortune on two losing campaigns for the Senate, both of them lost by margins in the double digits, and the latest to an opponent in Democrat Christopher Murphy who entered the race with scant statewide name recognition.

The question on the lips of many was whether McMahon now is washed up in politics.

"I think it's `call it a day.' You've spent $100 million and been trounced twice," said Elvin Lim, associate professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown and author of the political blog, Out on a Lim.

"I think people are going to start thinking about her as a polarizing figure at worst, and at best, a bad memory," Lim said.

Connecticut's top Republican, who was a combined 0 for 6 in races for U.S. Senate and House on his watch this year, conceded Wednesday that McMahon was a high-risk, high-reward torch bearer for a party in the minority.

"There's no secret that I had my reservations about the formula of nominating a self-funder with no prior political experience," said Jerry Labriola Jr., chairman of the state GOP. "The track record throughout the nation for this formula has been dismal."

McMahon was not giving interviews the day after her latest setback. Her campaign website still had a banner telling visitors to help get out the vote.

When the topic of her political future came up Tuesday, McMahon insisted she had no immediate plans to run for office, including for governor in 2014.

No other candidate has spent more of his or her own money running for federal office than McMahon, albeit spread between the 2010 and 2012 races -- not even H. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran as a third-party candidate for president in 1992 and 1996.

Former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays immediately second-guessed fellow Republicans for embracing McMahon over him in the primary.

"She spent over $100 million and lost two elections that I think Republicans could and should have won," Shays said Wednesday. "I think she totally used my party, frankly, for her own self interests, and we paid a very heavy price for it."

In 2010, McMahon won a three-way primary over former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and financial commentator Peter Schiff, only to lose the general election to Democrat Richard Blumenthal by 12 points.

"I respect the will of our convention and primary voters, but in doing so, we did cast aside two very capable ex-congressmen, Simmons and Shays, who each had a track record of attracting a broad cross-section of the electorate," said Labriola, who became party chairman in 2011.

Labriola stopped short putting all the blame on McMahon, who has been generous to a multitude of Republican organizations.

"Linda has proven to be a hard-working and disciplined candidate, and she fought the good fight," Labriola said.

Democrat and fellow Greenwich resident Ned Lamont can commiserate with McMahon, having spent $26 million of his own money on unsuccessful bids for the Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010.

"At the end of the day, you're right: Politics is very binary. You win or lose," Lamont said. "But you don't sit around and say, `Did I get a return on my investment?' It gives you a platform to stand up and say what you believe and hopefully change the dialogue. I've got no regrets."

With her business background, McMahon could still be an asset to a state administration in Hartford that has placed an emphasis on job retention and recruitment, Lamont said.

"You know what? If I was Dan Malloy, I would have her up there next week," Lamont said of the first-term governor, who defeated him in the 2010 Democratic primary.

For the better part of three years, McMahon has been seeking office and has been omnipresent in Connecticut. Now, her ubiquitous television ads are no more.

"My hunch is she's in Barbados," Lamont said.

neil.vigdor@scni.com; 203-625-4436; http://twitter.com/gettinviggy