She insists she isn't running for anything, but Linda McMahon is once again taking her money, clout and star power onto the campaign trail.
The Republican from Greenwich who poured $100 million into a pair of unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate has said repeatedly that her days as a candidate are over.
Yet nine months after losing the 2012 Senate race to Democrat Chris Murphy despite an omnipresent television and direct mail marketing blitz, McMahon has quietly begun her third act in politics: as a key benefactor to the state Republican party, and a trusted adviser to its chairman, Jerry Labriola Jr.
"She's had every reason, after the outcome of her two races, to disappear, but she's done just the opposite," Labriola said. "She's been active and helpful and I know she's dedicated to our party making a strong comeback in Connecticut."
McMahon has no formal title or clearly defined position; her new role is largely playing out in private -- and through the pictures and comments that she posts on Twitter.
"She wants to work behind the scenes to make Connecticut a better place," said Labriola, who added that he often turns to her for advice.
The former CEO of WWE, the Stamford-based wrestling entertainment company, declined requests for an interview.
But one measure of McMahon's enduring celebrity -- and her generosity to the state party -- was her prime seat at the annual Prescott Bush fundraising dinner in May: She sat on the dais with other dignitaries, listening to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the event's keynote speaker. Next month, she will co-host a $100-per-person fundraiser for Republican First Selectman Timothy M. Herbst of Trumbull.
"Linda is definitely going to be a player within the Republican party," said Gary L. Rose, chairman of the department of government and politics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield and the author of a soon-to-be published book, "No Holds Barred: The 2012 Connecticut Senate race."
"Somebody with those resources, they don't just disappear into the woodwork," Rose said. "She's tasted politics and, even though things didn't really break her way, she's interested in having a voice."
But not necessarily as a candidate: McMahon recently unloaded her campaign SUV -- a silver Denali. She donated it to a Stamford agency that helps the homeless, tweeting a picture as she handed over the vehicle.
Rose discounted rumors that McMahon was planning a challenge to Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in 2014. "She would like a larger stage than the House of Representatives," he said. But, he added, she enjoyed being a candidate and "she knows there's some type of role for her."
McMahon's business experience makes her an appealing ambassador for a party that emphasizes entrepreneurship and corporate success. Since the election, she has been busy with various business groups -- she recently traveled to China to attend a gathering for CEOs from around the world hosted by Fortune magazine and, two weeks ago, she was appointed to the advisory board of APCO Worldwide, a business strategy firm.
Despite a packed schedule, McMahon said she intends to stay involved with politics. She has used her Twitter feed to comment on everything from her charitable work to the meaning of July 4 to public policy matters, such as the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. (She praised the decision as "a step toward equal rights and responsibilities for all.")
Though McMahon declined several requests to speak with The Courant , she did issue the following statement through her spokeswoman, Kate Duffy: "I am continuing to work with Republican Party officials in Connecticut, helping the state's GOP candidates with fundraising and outreach in an effort to get more diverse representation. One-party rule is clearly not working for our state."
A multi-millionaire, McMahon was known for her lavish spending, investing heavily in glossy brochures, slickly produced television spots and armies of consultants in both of her runs for Senate. But she also donated tens of thousands of dollars to other Republican candidates and causes in both 2010 and 2012, the party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, among them.
She is still writing checks for political contributions. In May, McMahon donated $19,800 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. She has also given $10,000 to the Republican State Central Committee since the beginning of 2013, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
"She's been a strong financial contributor," Labriola said. "She's a leading figure in our party and I'm quite confident she would make herself available to help our candidates."
Insiders say she will likely have an outsized role in the 2014 governor's race. McMahon is close to former ambassador Tom Foley, who is all but certain to run against Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Another potential GOP gubernatorial candidate with close ties to McMahon, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, praised her "input, intellect and passion for Connecticut."
"She's very interested in helping to shape the future of our state," Boughton said.
Even Rob Simmons, who lost the 2010 Republican nomination for Senate to McMahon after an intense and bitter campaign, says he sees a role for his former rival.
"I think she learned the hard way that it's not easy to get elected in Connecticut as a Republican, but there are plenty of opportunities for her to help the minority party grow, and we are the minority party," Simmons said.
McMahon's gender gives her a powerful platform within the Republican party as it struggles to connect with women.
"If Linda McMahon is helping people like Wayne Winsley and Jerry Labriola broaden the base of the Republican party, that's a very good thing," Simmons said. ___
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