HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Wrestling impresario Vince McMahon — who has largely avoided the role of political spouse and whose World Wrestling Entertainment alter ego has been on hiatus during his wife's Senate campaign in Connecticut — has emerged from ringside in the contest's final days, defending a business empire he says has been trashed because of politics.
Democrats call his actions a late tag-team effort to boost Republican Linda McMahon's campaign as she trails in the polls.
Fed up with what he called "malicious and misleading attacks," the bombastic 65-year-old McMahon recently launched an Internet campaign called "Stand up for WWE," whose past policies and programming have been attacked by his wife's opponents.
He also filed a federal lawsuit this week against the top state election official for suggesting that WWE fans who come to the polls cover up their wrestling clothing or paraphernalia, given Linda McMahon's ties to the company. A judge Wednesday ruled in McMahon's favor.
And on Saturday, the WWE is staging a fan appreciation event in Hartford just three days before Linda McMahon hopes to rally enough voters to defeat Democrat Richard Blumenthal for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd. WWE announced Thursday it will hand out free merchandise near selected polling places on Election Day to "celebrate" its success with the lawsuit.
Vince McMahon says such efforts have been "a monumental success."
"Certain members of the media, they're a little less likely to write untruths. Elitists, a little less likely to be looking down their noses at us. And even government officials, are concerned about the collective power of you, the WWE universe," McMahon proudly tells the fans in a WWE Web message posted this week.
While WWE and Linda McMahon's Senate campaign both claim the "Stand up for WWE" endeavor is strictly a company initiative, state Democrats have sought a federal elections investigation into whether the company has illegally cooperated with the political campaign.
"Linda McMahon's $50 million attack machine is calling in corporate reinforcements with no respect for the law or the voters of Connecticut," said state Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, referring to how much the candidate has said she'll spend on her campaign.
Vince McMahon has appeared politically only once with his wife since she declared her candidacy last fall — in May, when she won the state GOP's endorsement.
Still, his image and reputation have made an impression in a race where the issues of steroid abuses and the WWE's controversial programming have often outmatched policy discussions.
Political opponents have enjoyed showing clips of Vince McMahon — as WWE character Mr. McMahon — forcing a woman to bark like a dog. They also point to his 1994 trial when was faced charges of conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids to wrestlers. He was later acquitted.
Linda McMahon has touted her 30 years as an executive at WWE, and its past incarnations, in saying she has what it takes to turn around Washington.
Her husband of 44 years acknowledges he doesn't have much use for politicians and politics.
"When Linda mentioned to me that she wanted to give this a run and what did I think, I said, 'Well if you're successful, you'll be the only honest politician I know in Washington D.C.,'" Vince McMahon told The Associated Press.
On the campaign trail, Linda McMahon has mostly been accompanied by her paid campaign staff, appearing at times with the couple's daughter Stephanie, or Stephanie's husband Paul Levesque, the wrestler known as Triple H.
And on WWE's programming, the fictional Mr. McMahon has been incapacitated for months after some renegade wrestlers beat him up in June. McMahon told the AP that he hopes to end the character, saying the performances in the ring have become physically grueling.
"This was not about Vince McMahon, it should not have been about WWE, it was about Linda. The campaign was about Linda McMahon running for Senate," WWE spokesman Rob Zimmerman said.
The McMahons transformed a small wrestling company they bought from Vince's father into the success that it's become today, complete with pay-per-view matches and a planned cable TV channel. Both talk about sharing a desk in the old days, not sure whether they could afford to pay their taxes or their staff.
Vince McMahon acknowledges he underestimated the interest, and scrutiny, the Senate race would bring to WWE and the issues he and the company have faced over the years, such as steroids, wrestler deaths and raunchy programming.
And he's also been surprised by how he's been portrayed as a mythic, all-controlling figure who knew what was really going "back in the day," before the company revamped everything from its programming to drug testing.
"I'm supposed to be this Machiavellian character of some kind ... ," he told the AP. "Oh yeah, I'm extremely aggressive, over the top and real matter-of-fact, and I go for the jugular everyday and have an extraordinary work ethic and what have you, but the stories are legendary."
Credit: Google News, Wires
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