The wrestling mogul and the craven congressman
The Tuesday night primary results are rich with story lines - a tea-party darling wins the Colorado Republican senatorial nomination, the Georgia GOP gubernatorial race (featuring a candidate championed by Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, versus a candidate championed by Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee) is a cliffhanger heading for a recount - but I'm partial to the plot in Connecticut. That state's autumn Senate contest promises to be a veritable wellspring of entertainment.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll happily stipulate that I have a soft spot for my birth state, where I also spent my first 11 years in the dead-tree news biz. The political climate was quite genteel, the governor was a penny-pincher who owned a bar, moderate Republicans were plentiful, and the biggest fuss in the state capital was the yearly warning from the bottling industry that if the lawmakers ever passed the radical bill mandating the recycling of bottles, Connecticut would surely shed zillions of jobs and sink into a recessionary dark age.
And back then, it would have been inconceivable in Connecticut that a major political party would tap, as its candidate for the U.S. Senate, a female impresario who had made a billion bucks by staging events in which people stuffed with steroids pounded each other with furniture and the occasional woodshed tool.
Yet that's what happened last night, with World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon's self-financed ascent to the GOP nomination. Reportedly, she's already the fourth most prolific self-funder of all time. She spent $22 million of her own money to finish first in the Republican primary with 58,000 votes; that works out to roughly $400 a vote, and she vowed on TV this morning to extract another $28 million from the personal till. ("It's money I've earned. It's money I'm willing to invest.")
She defends her personal spending by insisting that her wealth makes her independent, that she is too rich to be bought by the special interests. Third-party presidential hopeful Ross Perot used to make the exact same argument, and a lot of people fell for it, until he revealed himself to be a loon who was convinced that the senior George Bush had sent government spooks to disrupt his daughter's wedding. It's too soon to say whether McMahon will prove too loony for Connecticut's swing voters; on the other hand, there are some entertaining video clips that show McMahon hosting a wrestling match by kicking a guy in the groin (or pretending to); and another in which she demands that a scantily clad female wrestler get down on her knees and bark like a dog.
But hey, maybe it takes all kinds to populate the U.S. Senate. Nearly 60 percent of the current members are lawyers, so maybe a bit more diversity is desirable. At the moment there are a few farmers, a veterinarian, a show biz comedian, an orthopedic surgeon - but never, so far as I can tell, has there been an entertainment mogul who once employed a guy who simulated sex with a corpse in a casket in a wrestling ring. It's not for me to say whether this track record qualifies McMahon to hold forth on weighty issues such as, say, health insurance (particularly since she has never provided her wrestlers with health insurance), but what the heck, Connecticut's Republicans are probably smart to take a flyer on her. They've got nothing to lose by doing so. Care to guess how many Connecticut Republicans have served in the Senate since 1953? One.
Democrats will claim that McMahon is merely trying to buy the open Senate seat, and it's true that she can afford to pay top dollar for campaign aides (her chief of staff is reportedly making $300,000) and to advertise lavishly on TV (the Hartford and New Haven media markets are easily affordable). But money doesn't necessarily guarantee victory; in 2008, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, 40 of 51 congressional candidates who spent more than $500,000 of their own money wound up losing or quitting. McMahon's money has given her a seat at the table, but she has been sufficiently skilled on the stump to make her a serious contender this fall.
And despite her unconventional baggage (for instance, she and her co-mogul husband used to test the wrestlers for steroids, but stopped because she said that testing wasn't "cost-effective"), she'll be well positioned to nurture her outsider status and perhaps break the Connecticut GOP's losing streak - because she's matched against a career insider, state attorney general Dick Blumenthal, who was outed this spring for telling tall tales about his fictional service as a Marine in Vietnam.
Will this be a great race, or what? Clang the bell.
Also on the entertainment front, somebody should give Charlie Rangel his own reality show and call it Train Wreck. Or perhaps Lost. The ethics-challenged congressman's performance yesterday on the House floor was pathos incarnate. House Democrats had planned to spotlight a jobs bill, yet there was Rangel, stomping the story line and making it all about him. No wonder his colleagues want him gone.
During his 30-minute ramble, he said: "If I was you, I might want me to go away too. But I'm not going away. I am here!"
Which gave me an idea. Next time, he should just dress up as Shirley MacLaine and croon the final lines of a classic Stephen Sondheim song - naturally entitled, "I'm Still Here."
...Good times and bum times,
I've seen 'em all and, my dear,
I - am - still - here!
Smooth sailing sometimes,
Sometimes a kick in the rear,
But I'm here.
I've run the gamut,
A to Z.
Three cheers and dammit,
C'est la vie.
I got through all of last year
And I'm here.
Lord knows, at least I was there,
And I'm here!
Look who's here!
I'm still - heeeerrrrrre!