Hartford, Conn. – Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon won her party’s endorsement Friday night in the first round of ballots, defeating early frontrunner and longtime Connecticut GOP insider, former Rep. Rob Simmons.
Simmons, however, pledged to stay in the Aug. 10 primary despite telling the press throughout the race, and saying as recently as this Wednesday that he would abide by the party’s endorsement and drop out of the race.
McMahon’s win and Simmons’ announcement set Republicans up for a contentious primary this summer, just days after a damaging New York Times report about the presumed Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal misrepresenting his record of military service appeared to aid Republican hopes of claiming the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D).
McMahon received 737 votes, Simmons received 632 votes and businessman Peter Schiff had 44 votes after the first round of ballots. According to state party convention rules, a candidate must receive over 50 percent to receive the party’s endorsement and McMahon had almost 52 percent of the vote.
Simmons declined to repeat his vow to abide by the convention’s choice in a brief interview with POLITICO just before the vote, saying only that “I’ve got my game face on tonight… a winning game face. I’m not considering any plan Bs. I’m running to win.”
After losing the delegates' vote, he still is.
“We just saw that earlier this week a candidate that has not been in a tough race for some years can be brought to task by an inexperienced candidate,” Simmons said in a statement after the vote. “We know that there will be a primary and Peter Schiff intends to primary. As such, I intend to be a part of it. I believe the best thing I can do to help the Republican Party to victory in November is to give them another choice and that’s why I intend to stay in this race.”
When questioned by reporters after the convention on whether she expected a primary challenge, McMahon welcomed the challenge.
“We’ll have a good primary,” McMahon said after the convention before Simmons’ announcement. “I can’t speak for Mr. Simmons, but he has said publicly that if he does not win the convention he would not primary me.”
McMahon boasted an early lead among delegates early in the counting, but did not have enough votes initially to secure her party’s endorsement. It was only after convention leaders asked for any vote-switchers at the end of the first round that McMahon gained enough votes to win her party’s endorsement.
“We don’t know for sure, but it appears that enough people have switched to put Linda McMahon over the top,” said Harry Artinian, a Simmons delegate from Darien, Conn., before the final tally was announced. “I’m sure if that’s the case, we’re going to have to unite behind Linda McMahon and get behind her for the election.”
Peter Schiff, who saw his delegate count get cut in half by the end of the first round, did not end up with the necessary 10 percent threshold to automatically be on the primary ballot, but plans to petition to have his name there. He said in an interview that he attempted to direct his delegates to Simmons, but it was too late.
“I directed them to go to Rob Simmons, but some of them had already gone Linda’s way before I realized what was going on,” Schiff said.
As her vote tally began to surge, members of McMahon’s family entered the convention center, including husband Vince McMahon, her mom, son, daughter and son-in-law, Paul Levesque, better known as the professional wrestler “Triple H.” As the final votes were counted, the family stood stationary, ignoring the lights of the cameras literally surrounding them and refusing to respond when asked something.
When she took the stage to accept her victory, McMahon described it as “overwhelming.” She reminded delegates that across town Democrats had endorsed Attorney General Richard Blumenthal by acclamation.
“I’d venture to say we’re going to lay the smackdown on him in November,” she quipped, as her son Shane held up her hand in a victory gesture.