As chief executive of the world’s biggest wrestling promoter, Linda McMahon combined a shrewd business sense with an alarming willingness to climb into the ring herself and kick large men where it hurt.
Her decision to quit the world of double arm locks for a run at the US Senate has not only startled millions of American wrestling fans; she is also threatening to unseat a key ally of President Barack Obama in what may be a crucial mid-term election fight next year.
McMahon, 60, is the latest in a new line of successful, charismatic Republican women to bid for national office. Like Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, she aims to turn a lack of political experience into a virtue. “I’m not a politician, I’ve been very fortunate to have a successful business career,” she said last week.
“Washington has too many career politicians and I can’t sit on the sidelines any more.”
McMahon has thrown her folding chair into the ring for the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Christopher Dodd, Connecticut’s veteran Democratic incumbent. Opinion polls suggest Dodd will be among the Democrats most at risk in next year’s elections.
Several other Republicans are vying for the seat, but McMahon’s high-profile role as the brain behind World Wrestling Entertainment has assured her of the most attention with headlines referring to a “no-holds barred” campaign in which she will “body-slam” her hapless opponent.
Although McMahon left most of the wrestling theatrics to her flamboyant husband, Vince, the ringmaster of WWE promotions, she appeared in the ring on several occasions that are almost certain to feature in her rivals’ campaign advertisements.
The McMahons are credited with transforming professional wrestling into the soap opera that last year earned the firm more than $500m from pay-per-view television, merchandising and other events.
In the process the whole family has joined in. At one point McMahon kneed her husband in the groin and reduced another man to bent-over whimpering. Her daughter, Stephanie,slapped her mother to the floor.
Asked if she was worried that old clips might damage her credibility, McMahon noted that other entertainers had made the transition to politics, among them Ronald Reagan, who once made a film with a chimpanzee. “I would hope to be that successful,” she said.
She has already declared that she will use her own fortune to pay most of her campaign costs and will not accept contributions of more than $100. “I won’t sell out and I can’t be bought,” she said.