HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — While clearly not fans of Republican Linda McMahon during her two contentious U.S. Senate bids, Connecticut's top Democrats now have high praise for the former professional wrestling executive they now see as a potential ally in President Donald Trump's administration.
McMahon's two former political foes, Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, each enthusiastically endorsed McMahon for her new job as administrator of the Small Business Administration. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, even called her the "perfect choice" for the job.
It's a markedly different tone from 2012, when Malloy said Murphy's victory over McMahon showed "we have elections in Connecticut, not auctions," a dig at how McMahon spent $100 million of her own money on her failed Senate campaigns, the other in 2010. Malloy, Murphy and Blumenthal appear to be turning from politics to pragmatism, considering the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment will now be the highest ranking member of Trump's Republican administration from blue-state Connecticut.
"She could be a very proactive ally in driving benefits for small businesses to our state. And second, she could be a voice of sanity and stability, much needed by this administration, in economic policy," Blumenthal said. "This administration has been characterized by abundant turmoil and dysfunction, which is unsettling to businesses because they need predictability, not uncertainty. And she understands that point."
A message was left seeking comment with McMahon, who started her new position on Wednesday.
Murphy, who once accused McMahon of being addicted to making personal attacks while reticent to discuss the issues, noted at the Republican's recent confirmation hearing how the sight of him and Blumenthal, sitting at a table with McMahon, publicly backing their former adversary might seem amusing and surprising to Connecticut voters who watched the three of them "duke it out" over two long and often nasty campaigns.
"But, you know, politics can't work if political grudges never die," Murphy told the Senate Small Business Committee last month. "Political adversaries have to find a way to work together after the fight is over."
Murphy said he and McMahon have not "magically become of one mind" on approaching problems facing the country, but he said he has confidence McMahon will provide "good sound counsel" to Trump when it comes to policies affecting small businesses.
As the 25th administrator of the SBA, McMahon will preside over a $1 billion agency that's best known for making small business loans and providing disaster relief to companies and entrepreneurs. It could be a key appointment for Connecticut. Since the devastating Superstorm Sandy in 2012, state homeowners, businesses and nonprofit organizations have received $55 million in low-interest SBA loans.
SBA also helps Americans start, build and grow businesses. In fiscal year 2016, SBA's Connecticut office supported loans for more than $284 million through its three main loan programs.
Following McMahon's uneventful 81-19 Senate confirmation Tuesday, Blumenthal said he hopes his former political rival will push for increased federal support for small businesses. Since the 2012 election, McMahon has overseen a joint venture called Women's Leadership LIVE, which promotes leadership opportunities for women in business, public service and other careers through conferences and mentoring.
"Linda McMahon knows that small businesses are our country's most vibrant and vital job creators," Blumenthal said. Such positive comments come almost seven years after the two faced off in a combative campaign that was overshadowed by questions of whether Blumenthal had intentionally distorted his Vietnam-era military service — something Blumenthal denied but McMahon seized upon during the race.
"Time heals a lot of wounds," Blumenthal said. "But most important, personal grudges really have no place in my world, which is to fight for Connecticut and do what's best for the people of Connecticut. And if she brings one extra dollar to a business that needs it to create jobs, that will be sufficient reward for me."
This story has been corrected to show McMahon was confirmed Tuesday, not Wednesday.