Senate candidates Linda McMahon and Peter Schiff try to turn Connecticut red with fiscal conservatism

Matt Purple Fellow, Defense Priorities
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Linda McMahon is a petite and friendly woman with that magnetic smile that political consultants crave. But when she starts talking about the Democrats’ financial reform package, she gets a bit of an edge in her voice.

“It’s 2,300 pages. It’s just, I think, ridiculous,” she said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “It’s overreaching by the government…It’s putting regulation in place that we just don’t need. And it’s just a typical government solution.”

This is hardly radical rhetoric. Republicans by and large oppose the financial overhaul. Last week, House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner got in trouble with the commissars of progressive political correctness when he compared the plan to “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.” But McMahon is running for Senate in Connecticut, one of the bluest states in America.

Yet, somehow, fiscal conservatism is alive in Connecticut like never before.

The Republican Senate primary has consisted largely of a competition to seize the standard of small government values. McMahon is running as a hard-headed businesswoman who understands the plight of besieged small business owners.

“This is a former CEO of a company,” she says of herself. “I really understand what it’s like to live within a budget, to live within the means of that company and to push forward.”

McMahon helmed the famous (and infamous) World Wrestling Entertainment with her husband Vince. As CEO, she turned the WWE into a nationally renowned wrestling powerhouse and even made a few cameos in the ring – including one scene making the rounds on YouTube where she kicks a wrestler in the groin. But instead of running from her business, McMahon is touting it every chance she gets, even airing the groin-kicking footage in a commercial.

Connecticut’s Republican rumble was initially a three-way race, with former Congressman Rob Simmons considered the frontrunner. But Simmons suspended his campaign after he was targeted over his support for Democrats’ cap-and-trade and card check bills, and the state GOP endorsed McMahon at their convention in May.

McMahon’s main opponent in the primary race is now Peter Schiff, an articulate libertarian economist. Schiff lacks McMahon’s name recognition, but has developed a cult following among many of the same libertarians who fell in love with Texas Congressman Ron Paul two years ago. For them, Schiff is a familiar face; he was Paul’s economic advisor during the congressman’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“It’s a fiscal crisis of our own making and we’re making it a lot worse right now,” Schiff told The Daily Caller, his voice heated with passion. “So we need somebody to go the United States Senate – me – and put a stop to it. We can’t keep going deeper into debt and claim we’re solving our problems.”

Schiff was one of the few economists who accurately predicted the financial crisis, which earned him accolades and a Daily Show appearance, among other things. Today he talks about Democrats’ economic plans in equally dire terms, comparing the government’s stimulus plans to putting leeches on a sick patient and throwing gasoline on a fire.
“We’re following the philosophy of the bankrupted Soviet Union or Cuba today,” he said.

Rhetoric aside, both candidates support policies that are stridently conservative and haven’t been seriously discussed by Connecticut politicians in years.

McMahon supports tax cuts of every stripe, including slicing payroll taxes and corporate taxes, preserving the Bush-era tax cuts, stopping capital gains taxes from going up, and capping income tax rates. She also wants a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, an idea that hasn’t been seriously considered since Republicans failed to pass one after the 1994 elections. One of McMahon’s economic advisors is Dr. John Rutledge, who helped craft Reaganomics in the 1980s.

Schiff says he’ll reduce the deficit entirely through spending cuts, keep cutting until there’s a surplus, and then lower taxes. He supports a balanced budget amendment but has a more practical solution to stopping government spending.

“If I’m elected to the United States Senate, I am going to lead the filibuster against increasing the debt ceiling,” he pledges. “And so all I need is 40 senators to stand with me and we balance the budget.”

Until then, McMahon and Schiff have relentless schedules, campaigning constantly across the state. At a July 4 parade in Barkhamsted, both candidates waded into the sea of Red Sox hats and lawn chairs to shake hands with residents sweltering in the heat. As if to remind them of the difficult task ahead, Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, the Democratic contender for Senate, also showed up.

Can a fiscal conservative prevail in Connecticut? The Cook Political Report has the Senate race classified as “Leans Democratic.” A Quinnipiac poll taken last month found McMahon losing to Blumenthal 56% to 31%. Schiff is behind 56% to 29%.

But Blumenthal isn’t untouchable. A series of allegations that he lied about serving in Vietnam as a Marine damaged him in May. McMahon has pledged she’ll spend $50 million to win the race. And of course, Scott Brown’s upsurge in neighboring Massachusetts is fresh on everyone’s minds.

It’s a sign of the times that McMahon and Schiff can espouse fiscal conservatism in Connecticut and still have a running chance. The last major Connecticut Senate race in 2006 pitted liberal Democrat Ned Lamont against slightly-less-liberal Independent Joe Lieberman. The Republican in the race, Alan Schlesinger, netted only 10% of the vote.

When asked if she had any words for Blumenthal, McMahon replied, “Best of luck.”

He just might need it.