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WWE’s Linda McMahon wades into Senate race

Pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon has never been shy about wading into the ring — and now she's plotting a smackdown of Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd.
WWE CEO Senate
In this March 28, 2001 file photo, Linda McMahon speaks during an interview at the company's headquarters in Stamford Conn.Douglas Healey / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon has never been shy about wading into the ring — and now she's plotting a smackdown of Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd. World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. said Wednesday McMahon has resigned as the company's chief executive to seek the Republican nomination for Dodd's seat, providing a show-business twist to one of the nation's marquee Senate races.

"I never do anything half-heartedly," McMahon said in a telephone interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. "I am 100 percent serious about this race."

McMahon, 60, launched her candidacy saying the five-term incumbent Dodd has "lost his way and our trust." Dodd plans to run for a sixth term next year and is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats. He also faces a Democratic challenger, businessman Merrick Alpert.

McMahon's candidacy recalls the move brash Jesse Ventura made back in 1999, jumping from pro wrestling to the Minnesota governorship.

WWE, which is behind such television shows as "Raw" and "Friday Night SmackDown" is known for its over-the-top performers, rowdy story lines and scantily clad women known as "divas."

McMahon and her family have been occasional performers. McMahon, who typically worked behind the scenes at the WWE, has said she's appeared in portions of the shows at least several dozen times during her more than 25-year-career. One video on the Internet shows her in the ring, appearing to kick a man in the groin.

Linda and Vince McMahon, a professional wrestler, announcer and promoter, co-founded WWE together. Linda McMahon has served as CEO since May 1997 and served as the company's president from May 1993 through June 2000. Vince McMahon has been chairman since 1980.

McMahon's husband will assume her duties as CEO, the company said in a statement.

McMahon faces three other Republicans — former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, state Sen. Sam Caligiuri and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley. She is expected to tap her personal wealth to help pay for the race.

"Given that Linda McMahon would be the fourth candidate in what will likely be an ugly primary fight, we're more than happy to see her get into the ring," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz.

McMahon could face criticism for some unsavory aspects of WWE's programming, particularly its sexually suggestive and violent themes. Asked about such criticisms, McMahon said WWE's programming is PG-rated and is seen by more than 16 million people each week.

"The product of WWE is currently very separate from the issues that are facing this country," she said. "We've got this unbelievable debt. We've got people out of work ... I hope that the focus in this campaign will be on the serious nature of the issues that are facing this country."

There could also be questions about whether her candidacy is motivated at least in part as a public relations ploy.

"At some level it's not a surprise that someone with a lot of money who is bored in her job would run," said Roy Occhiogrosso, a veteran Democratic strategist and Dodd supporter. "It certainly lends itself to all kinds of interesting metaphors."

When McMahon was appointed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to the Connecticut Board of Education, she sparked criticism from some lawmakers who said it sent a wrong message to children. Her appointment was approved by the General Assembly this year.

The WWE has been under fire in recent years following the unexpected deaths of several former and active wrestlers, some of which have been related to substance abuse. Congress asked the WWE for answers after the 2007 murder-suicide deaths of one of the WWE's top stars, Chris Benoit, and his family.

The company in 2006 began a substance-abuse policy that requires tests for steroids and other drugs.

She will limit individual contributions to $100 and won't accept contributions from political action committees and special interests.

"I am going to run a very different campaign," she said.

McMahon's GOP rivals Foley and Simmons, meanwhile, had lighthearted responses to her entry in the contest.

"When I got into the race I knew it would be a fight, but I didn't know I'd need to be prepared for smackdowns," Foley said.

Simmons' spokesman Jim Barnett said his boss would run a "campaign Connecticut can be proud of, no head-butting, eye-gouging or hair-pulling."