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April 14, 2015

Linda McMahon still looms large over GOP politics

Linda McMahon had about 97 million reasons to be done with politics.

The financial hit of back-to-back defeats for the U.S. Senate hasn't suppressed the professional wrestling matriarch's appetite for the Republican brand, however.

In fact, it appears to have strengthened it, with McMahon commanding VIP invites to GOP conclaves from Wyoming to New Hampshire with other rainmakers to be wooed by the party's crop of presidential hopefuls.

Federal filings show McMahon has given more than $3 million to Republican candidates and organizations since her last run in 2012, including $700,000 to Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC and $100,000 to an Iowa political fund that helped combat veteran and proud pig castrater Joni Ernst get elected to the Senate.

McMahon, 66, is still behaving in many ways like a candidate, Tweeting photos from her regular speaking engagements at women's entrepreneurial events and charity appearances.

All of this begs the question: What's in it for McMahon?

"Some of the rest of these activities hint at someone who might not be ready to give up on the idea of electoral politics," said Vincent Moscardelli, an assistant political science professor at the University of Connecticut.

Those close to McMahon, who has previously sworn off running for office again and remains a key contributor to the state GOP, say it's not about self-fulfillment.

"I give Linda a lot of credit. She wasn't doing it on the campaign trail just to get votes," said state Rep. Livvy Floren, who is from Greenwich like McMahon. "She can do a lot of good. I think she cares very much about the future of the Republican Party."

McMahon, who, with her husband, Vince McMahon, has turned the Stamford-based WWE into an entertainment giant with its own television network, declined to be interviewed about her political engagement.

Next weekend, she is scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, N.H., where most of the party's presidential contenders will try to cultivate early support for 2016. Among them will be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has both campaigned for McMahon and been hosted by her for a 2013 fundraiser for his re-election.

McMahon's critics say that one would think she get the message, as well as the party that twice nominated her for the Senate.

"The Connecticut GOP has an identity crisis," said Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democrats. "It is interesting that after spending $97 million of her own money to be thoroughly rejected by voters, Linda McMahon remains a leading voice in Connecticut Republican politics."

McMahon's loyalists say she could have easily checked out after her record-setting splurge, but is personally invested in causes such as education and tax reform so that other budding entrepreneurs can succeed like her.

"I'm glad she's staying in the mix," Mark Boughton, the longtime GOP Danbury mayor, said last week.

The visibility of McMahon stands in stark contrast to fellow Republican Tom Foley, who has receded from the political frontlines since losing his rematch in the governor's race last November to Democratic incumbent Dannel P. Malloy. In February, McMahon traveled to the Jackson Hole, Wyo., ranch of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts for a confab of top Republican contributors.

"Once you're identified as a major donor, it's probably very hard to extract yourself from those circles and, as idealistic as it might sound, we shouldn't rule out the possibility that she cares deeply and passionately about these issues," Moscardelli said. "She didn't have to run. She didn't have to put herself through not one but two campaigns."

McMahon's post-candidacy charity work has not waned, with her family foundation disbursing $1.8 million to Connecticut charities in 2013, the most recent year that filings were available from the IRS.

That year, the foundation gave a $500,000 grant to Liberation Programs in Norwalk that the organization used to renovate its substance abuse recovery center for pregnant women and their children. The facility is named after the first couple of wrestling.

More recently, McMahon has been spotted trying on a bionic suit for wounded veterans and at a forum for women in business at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, where she is on the board and has a building named after her.

When McMahon is unfiltered and doesn't have to stick to the script the way most of her wrestlers do, her supporters say, she is at her best. Too often during her back-to-back campaigns, they said, McMahon was controlled too tightly by her handlers.

"The authentic Linda is a the real deal," Floren said. "I think people are drawn to her."

source: ctpost.com

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