HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Republican Linda McMahon promised the Connecticut GOP that she would run a totally different campaign in 2012 after losing her first U.S. Senate race two years ago to Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
The former wrestling executive said she didn’t need to spend $50 million again. Her second campaign would be more grass-roots oriented. She would work to improve her standing among women.
But during the final months of this year’s race, she resembled the McMahon of old.
The wealthy McMahon spent almost the same eye-popping amount — more than $42 million as of last month — for a total of nearly $100 million over the two races. She plastered TV screens with seemingly endless commercials. And exit polling conducted for The Associated Press showed female voters ultimately backed her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy. Murphy beat McMahon among women 3-to-2.
In the end, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, McMahon had lost with 43 percent of the vote. It was the exact same percentage she had garnered in 2010.
‘‘We've seen this movie before,’’ said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz, who predicted in mid-October that McMahon’s popularity — which had improved since 2010 — was fading in the final weeks, just like two years earlier.
‘‘By the end of the campaign, voters liked her less,’’ Schwartz said. ‘‘They trusted her less and perhaps part of that was a backlash to her saturation of television advertising.’’
State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. on Wednesday credited McMahon with being ‘‘a hardworking, disciplined candidate who had fought the good fight’’ but acknowledged that the state Republican Party now needs to get back to basics.
‘‘There’s no secret that I had reservations about the formula of running a self-funder with no prior political experience. Perhaps the age of big self-funders is over in Connecticut,’’ he told the AP. ‘‘We have a deep bench of talented Republican officeholders who have worked their way up the ranks and have bona fide political skills.’’
McMahon told a crowd of supporters on Tuesday that she had no regrets about her campaign and probably would not have done anything differently, saying, ‘‘It was an incredibly well-run, hard-fought race.’’
Through a spokesman, McMahon declined requests for interviews on Wednesday. A message was also left with her campaign manager, Corry Bliss.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, an avid McMahon supporter, attributed the businesswoman’s loss to national politics. In addition to being up against a strong showing by President Barack Obama, Boughton said McMahon’s standing among women may have suffered because of comments made about rape by two male Republican Senate candidates in other states.
‘‘You just can’t distance yourself far enough from those kinds of comments because of the narrative the Democrats very strategically played,’’ Boughton said.
He said Republicans shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that any other GOP candidate, such as McMahon’s primary rival, former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, could have won on Tuesday.
‘‘I think she’s very much getting an unfair rap. Look, we had somebody that was willing to spend money, run for the United States Senate and provide resources to help drive out the vote, to help drive out Republican votes. Everybody benefitted on that ticket, up and down the line, by the ground work that they did,’’ said the mayor. ‘‘But you’re facing a headwind that is like a blizzard in terms of the votes that the president can generate.’’
Robert Poliner, a former state GOP chairman from Durham, had supported Shays for the party’s nomination. Back in January, he urged his fellow Republicans not to pick a candidate ‘‘with gobs of money’’ but rather someone who would appeal to everybody.
On Wednesday, Poliner gave McMahon credit for spending two years of her life trying to become a U.S. senator and agreed with Boughton that there was no guarantee Shays would have won. But he said he doesn’t believe Shays or McMahon’s 2010 primary rival, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, would have done any worse than McMahon, despite her $42 million in spending.
‘‘In my mind, I think we probably would have done better’’ because a lot of the issues that Murphy raised, such as McMahon’s tenure as the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, now WWE, would not have been raised.
Even by pitching herself as a job creator, as she did in 2010, McMahon made the WWE a specter that was always present, Poliner said.
‘‘That became a central issue in both campaigns,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think you can walk away from that fact.’’