They roared as “Triple H” — U.S. Senate hopeful Linda McMahon’s son-in-law — pounded his opponent in the ring. They cheered as her husband Vince urged them to wear their World Wrestling Entertainment T-shirts to the polls on Tuesday. They whooped and hollered for the busty “Divas” who stomped their rival hussies. Then the diehards of World Wrestling nation filed out of the arena—some of them, at least, promising to vote for the candidate herself on Tuesday.
The wrasslin’ and unstated politickin’ took center stage Saturday, just three days before Election Day, at the Hartford XL Center.
Saturday’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) “Fan Appreciation Day” was not billed as a political rally. But some of the fans being appreciated made no distinction between Linda McMahon the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate—who faces Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the electoral ring Tuesday—and Linda McMahon the celebrity former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.
At 3 p.m, thousands of people piled into the arena for two and a half hours of simulated combat between the stars of WWE, including Triple H, McMahon’s son-in-law. The event was billed as a special reduced-price wrestling show for WWE’s loyal followers. The entrance fee of $10 or $20 bought a seat for multiple body-slamming bouts, punctuated by giveaways of autographed paraphernalia, and a dance competition between two teams of “Divas.”
Linda McMahon’s husband, current WWE CEO Vince McMahon (pictured), made an appearance to thank the fans and speak out against the “politicians” and “elitists” whom he said have been ridiculing and lying about about professional wrestling.
Did someone say “Dick Blumenthal”? Not Vince.
Nor did he—or any one else in the ring—mention his wife’s name. In fact, fans were discouraged from displaying political signs of any kind.
That didn’t stop Hampton’s Todd Haddad (pictured) from waving a big blue “Linda” sign from his seat. He was one of a couple of ringside spectators who did so.
“I’ve been donating to her campaign since 1984,” said Haddad. That’s how long he’s been a fan of WWE, and, as he sees it, supporting Linda McMahon through his support of her company.
Haddad noted that the event in the state capital was being held just three days before the election on Nov. 2. “The election’s Tuesday and she’s bringing in her” wrestlers, he said.
“It’s almost like a rally for her,” Haddad said.
Haddad said he’s a registered Republican, but he’s never gotten involved in a campaign before.
That’s also true of Saturday’s other ringside campaigner, Jeff Kokiel. He was sitting in the front row next to Wendy Cyr. They’ve been together for 11 years and have that many years of pay-per-view wrestling events on tape.
Kokiel said he usually doesn’t pay attention to politics or politicians since “they’re all crooks.” But he plans to vote for McMahon on Tuesday. He said he sees her as “somebody to vote for that’s different.”
Kokiel made his comments during intermission, after three one-on-one matches and the 24-man “battle royal” (pictured) that began the show.
The first half also include a dance-off between “WWE Divas.” Two groups of provocatively dressed women entered the ring, one friendly and positive, the other haughty and cold. The women took turns showing off their mostly tame dance moves. By audience applause, a member of the first group won the competition.
That prompted a brief and furious fistfight, which ended with the haughty group sent out of the ring, their high-heels thrown after them.
Some have complained about the WWE’s portrayal of women. But one mom who was in town from Boston for the show said during intermission that she had no problem with the Divas’ dance-off. “The Divas wouldn’t do it if they didn’t want to.”
She told her 14-year-old daughter that she could see her being a diva, since she’s “scrappy.”
Vince McMahon stepped into the ring after the divas departed. “You may think I am here to talk politics,” Vince McMahon said, “but nothing could be further from the truth.”
He encouraged WWE fans to vote on Tuesday and to “feel free to wear a WWE T-shirt” to the polls. He also urged them to “Stand up for WWE.” Professional wrestling has been given a bad rap, he said. “We’ve been subject to ridicule by elitists,” he said. Those “elitists” would like to tell people what they should and shouldn’t watch on TV, he said. He asked fans “to stand up for what you want to watch ... for what you think is appropriate for your family to watch.”
The audience cheered and rose to its feet as the house lights came up, heavy metal music kicked in, and McMahon stood on the bottom rope to wave to the fans.
The wrestling show ended the same way it began, with a couple dozen wrestlers pummeling each other in the ring. McMahon’s son-in-law Triple H (pictured) was one of the last standing in the ring.
As fans began to filter out, WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said Fan Appreciation Day was in no way intended to be a political event. It came together when WWE discovered it could get the XL Center on a Saturday, between a show in Massachusetts and one in Bridgeport on Tuesday.
Vince McMahon’s comments and the “Stand Up For WWE” campaign are meant to combat “everything negative that’s been said about the brand” over the last year, Zimmerman said.
The event was not designed to pull votes for Linda McMahon, he said. In fact many WWE enthusiasts are Democrats, he said. “You ask them. I don’t know how they’re voting.”
Brothers Jerry and Tony Negron (left and right in photo) said they’re voting for McMahon. Jerry was leaving the center with wrestler John Cena’s own T-shirt, which he’d tossed into the seats and into Jerry’s outstretched hands.
Jerry asked to be reminded whom McMahon is running against, then said “Blumenthal, if he will win, Connecticut will go down.”
“This is Linda’s state,” he said. Both brothers said that WWE and the McMahon family are synonymous with Connecticut.
“Vince loves Connecticut. You can’t beat Connecticut,” Jerry said.
Asked why he’s voting for McMahon, Jerry said, “She cares about the people. She doesn’t ignore the people. She’s a family person.”
“She’s bringing jobs,” he said. He said he recently went through two jobs and now works at Bridgeport Hospital.
“This is like Thanksgiving,” said Rosa Smith, who was getting ready to leave with her family, all of whom said they love WWE. She said she’s going to vote for McMahon on Tuesday. She said she likes McMahon as a candidate, but it’s intertwined with her love of WWE.
Gabriel Rivera (at right in photo) and Jonathan Roman (at left) said they’re voting for McMahon. At first, his support came from being a wrestling fan, Rivera said. But after seeing all McMahon’s ads, his stance became more political, he said. He said he likes that she’s for creating jobs.
“Everything she said is right,” Roman said. “We do need more jobs.”
New Havener Brandon Stovall (center background in photo) bought a $20 autographed picture of wrestler Big Show for 9-year-old Julius Dixon (center foreground). He said he hadn’t decided whom he was going to vote for on Tuesday. Informed that McMahon is running for U.S. Senate, he made his mind up on the spot. “She has my support then,” he said. “Just because I’ve been a fan of wrestling all my life. If she’s on the ballot, I’ll vote for her.”
Outside the doors of the arena, Mike Thompson (pictured) of Branford was handing out “Linda” buttons after watching the show. “I like all her policies,” he said. “She knows how to create jobs. Plus, Blumenthal’s a liar.”
Antonio Reyes of Hartford passed by on his way out, wearing a navy blue “Linda” hat and T-Shirt. The 31-year-old said he’s been a wrestling fan for 25 years.
He said Fan Appreciation Day was not a political event at all. “I understand it’s three days before the election,” he said. “I believe they’re separate.”