SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) — There were no crowds waiting to greet Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon when she stepped into All-State Utility Supply Co. this week. Just a mother and daughter who work behind the counter.
The stop in Southington was the first on McMahon's statewide tour of women-owned businesses, and an indication of how the former professional wrestling executive plans to retool her latest Senate campaign in Connecticut after losing in 2010. This time, McMahon says she expects to meet with more voters one-on-one, and she especially wants to meet with women — a demographic that strongly backed last year's winner, Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
"I think that as they get to know me and again are able to talk to me one-on-one or in small groups, they really do realize that I have shared a lot of their same issues, walked in their shoes," McMahon told The Associated Press in an interview. "I am a mother, I've been a stay-at-home-mom, a working mom, and I know what that feels like when you go out the door and your child is sick or you're at work and you're trying to make it to that evening performance."
McMahon, one of at least four candidates so far vying for the GOP nomination, was the CEO of WWE, formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment, until the fall of 2009. Her husband, Vince McMahon, now runs the Stamford-based company.
Exit polling in the state by The Associated Press in 2010 showed that three out of five women voted for Blumenthal, and that female voters were far more likely than male voters to be turned off by her association with the wrestling giant, criticized for how it has portrayed women and violence over the years.
Overall, 42 percent of female voters told the AP that McMahon's WWE experience made them less likely to vote for her, compared to 9 percent who said it made them more likely. About half, 49 percent, said it made no difference.
Among those women who didn't like McMahon's WWE ties, 86 percent voted for Blumenthal while 13 percent backed McMahon in the 2010 general election. Blumenthal also won among women with children by a 56 to 44 percent margin. However, he won even bigger among women without children, by a 62 to 37 percent margin.
Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democrats, said she doesn't foresee those numbers changing in 2012.
"Do I think people are going to forget that she made millions of dollars on promoting violence, the denigration women, sex, rape? No." DiNardo said. "I don't think people are going to forget that."
When asked how the campaign plans to combat any WWE-related criticism, Erin Isaac, McMahon's communications director, said the candidate plans to reach out to as many people as she can, often in more intimate settings, giving them a chance to get to know her.
"Linda will be meeting with women across the state in all kinds of different venues, from living rooms to their small businesses," Isaac said.
McMahon said her campaign plans to reach out to more women-owned businesses, something she acknowledged she didn't do much of during the last campaign, as well as various women's organizations and groups.
A Sept. 16 Quinnipiac University Poll showed McMahon trailing each of the two top Democratic candidates, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, especially among women — by at least 15 percentage points. One of McMahon's top rivals for the GOP endorsement, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays also trails Murphy and Bysiewicz among female voters.
In the battle for the GOP nomination, McMahon topped Shays, including among women. The survey indicated that 32 percent of female Republican primary voters backed Shays while 47 percent supported McMahon. The survey of 332 Republicans had a margin of sampling error of 5.4 percentage points, while the poll of 1,230 registered general election voters had a margin of sampling error of 2.8 percentage points.
Monica Cusano, the owner of All-State Utility Supply, which sells and rents construction safety equipment and other supplies, said she backed McMahon in 2010. She said she could relate to McMahon's involvement in the male-dominated, rough-and-tumble arena of professional wrestling.
"She's just in our world and that's what I think what you need to be," Cusano said. "Not just in the women's world."
Cusano, whose daughter works for her, said she didn't have a problem with McMahon's WWE ties. "So what?" she asked. "That's her industry. ... There's nothing wrong with it."
But she acknowledged that "regular women" might not think the same way.
Kate Terricciano, owner of Image Marketing Consultants in Southington, said she didn't support McMahon in 2010. But after she and her small staff met with the candidate to talk about their business concerns this week, Terricciano said she was converted. She's backing McMahon for the seat now held by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.
Terricciano said she simply wasn't that familiar with McMahon before.
"I know she put a lot into her campaign and spent a lot, but I didn't see any opportunities that where she was meeting with people," she said, referring to McMahon spending about $50 million of her own money on her last campaign. "And maybe we just missed it, but this time, I was so pleasantly surprised when I got the call for her to come down."
Terricciano, who doesn't have children, said she sees McMahon as "the ultimate in growing your business from nothing and making it a world-renowned company." But she questions whether other women, including mothers, will embrace that message.
"From a family perspective, I don't know if women respond as well to her," Terriciano said, "because she does seem more about business."