When I see the latest Linda McMahon ad, the one that reveals her as a thoughtful listener who "feels like your next door neighbor," I'm reminded of a few prominent male Republicans who have told me that women close to them will never vote for her.
Her ads are very good but a problem remains: A sizable bloc of females still don't support Linda, even as she has dramatically remade her image from racy wrestling CEO to sturdy woman-who-has-been-there-and-back.
As a dead-heatU.S. Senaterace unspools daily with inane arguments about where and when to debate, the two campaigns know the real fight is over every vote. And women —- particularly unaffiliated ones — are the voters both candidates are aggressively courting.
For McMahon, the stakes are high. For two years, her unfavorable rating has hovered near 40 percent, despite spending $63 million on two campaigns. It's not really a problem if Linda remains unpopular among Democratic women, but if independent women still don't think much of the new Linda on Election Day, McMahon won't be shopping for a new place in Washington next year.
According to the Quinnipiac Poll, a dangerous 41 percent of women say they are less likely to vote for McMahon because of her experience as CEO of the wrestling entertainment company WWE, the family business that her husband, Vince, still runs.
That's a problem for a candidate who is going to need every vote this fall.
All this might seem like an opportunity for Murphy, except that he has his own challenge: A lot of people don't know the guy. The June Q-Poll reported that 46 percent of all voters and 48 percent of women haven't heard enough about him to hold an opinion. These are scary numbers for a Senate candidate.
That blank slate is a problem for a candidate likely to be smothered by his opponent's TV ads. It's a big opening for McMahon and one that she is trying to take advantage of right now as her campaign launches a slew of negative ads that portray Murphy as an absentee lawmaker and the guy without a jobs plan.
"Murphy isn't well known,'' said Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac Poll. "Almost half of the people haven't formed an opinion. That includes women."
"Murphy has a lot of room to grow among women. If McMahon is able to define him among women … it could end up that he won't get the same kind of numbers as [Richard] Blumenthalamong women," Schwartz said.
Two years ago, the female vote helped Blumenthal swamp McMahon by 12 points. Since then, both McMahon and WWE have been aggressively rebranding.
Casual living room coffee chats with the gals, the frequent TV ads that remind us that Linda knows about hard times, and the campaign-backed "2,000 Women for Linda" are a few examples.
"Linda McMahon has gone through a lot of hardships in herself in her own life,'' Joanna Leone of Trumbull says in a YouTube interview the campaign distributes widely. "As she raised her family, she and her husband had struggled financially, yet she held her family together and made a lot of sacrifices. She understands what people in our economy are going through today."
While Linda has millions of dollars to market her new self -— and to tell her opponent's story before he can — Murphy has the kind of traditional Democratic support that will bring out female votes.
"Chris has been a great champion for women's reproductive rights," said Christian Miron, executive director of NARAL pro-choice Connecticut, a 17,000-member group that announced last week it will work on Murphy's behalf. "Time and time again Chris has stood up for women's reproductive choice."
"I understand that Linda McMahon has really been courting the women's vote," Miron said. "When women vote in the fall they will be concerned about substantive issues like the right to access birth control. They will find that Linda is not with them on most of the issues."
There's a good reason the TV ads show Murphy trailing his wife in the supermarket aisle or Linda connecting, again, with plain-talking moms.
We will hear too much about who knows how to create jobs, who is more out of touch or who is a career politician, but the more likely reality is the candidate who breaks through with women will win in November.