Big Name in Sports Thrown for Losses by Voters
VIDEO: What is the connection between sports and politics during the 2012 election season? Rick Horrow discusses pressing issues on the national, state, and local level with special guests including Matthew Dowd, Rep. Heath Shuler, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and Andy Dolich. (Source: Bloomberg)
On a night when sports and politics went 1-on-1, name recognition scored few points with voters.
Linda McMahon, linked with her husband to pro wrestling’s world of slams and smackdowns, lost her U.S. Senate race in Connecticut — again.
Connie Mack IV, who carries one of the most venerated names in baseball, was defeated in a bid for a Senate seat in Florida.
George Allen, with familial links to the Washington Redskins past and present, also was blocked from the Senate.
Ben Chandler, the grandson of onetime baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, was out of his U.S. House seat in Kentucky.
Tuesday was hardly an All-Star night for sports. Long gone are the days when the likes of basketball’s Bill Bradley served in the Senate. More recently, football’s J.C. Watts and track’s Jim Ryun were in Congress.
Two years ago, Hall of Fame pitcher and Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning retired. This year, sports lost more of its sizzle in Congress: Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, retired, and North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler, a one-time NFL quarterback, chose not to run again after his district was redrawn.
McMahon, a Republican who once ran World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. with blustery husband Vince McMahon, was beaten by Democrat Chris Murphy. She also lost in 2010, and the two defeats came with a hefty check — nearly $100 million from her personal treasury.
Murphy, a three-term congressman, made an issue of the 64-year-old McMahon’s wrestling roots, dismissing the enterprise as a vulgar and violent spectacle that belittled women.
“I think that not every CEO is qualified to be a United States senator,” he said.
WWE, as the wrestling extravaganza is now known, tried to clean up its image during the Senate campaign in an attempt to make itself more presentable as family fare. Still, Democrats found ways to remind the electorate of an online scene featuring a wrestler simulating sex with a corpse in a casket.
Mack, the great-grandson of Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack, was beaten by Democrat Bill Nelson, who won a third term.
Mack has made much of his baseball lineage. On his web page, the “O” in his first name is replaced with a baseball. The congressman’s great-grandfather managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years, starting in 1901, and with his suit and straw hat was always an impeccable presence in the dugout.
The younger Mack’s reputation was hit hard in TV ads. Nelson depicted Mack as a bar brawling party-boy. In 1992, Mack was involved in a barroom brawl with then-Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant. Mack insisted he was sober and minding his own business.
Ben Chandler’s grandfather was commissioner from 1945-51, a period when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers and broke the game’s racial barrier. Ben Chandler, a fiscally conservative Democrat, lost to Republican Andy Barr, who linked his opponent to the president in a state where Barack Obama is decidedly weak.
Allen, turned back in Virginia by Tim Kaine, is the brother of current Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and the son of former Redskins coach George Allen.
The inability to draw on a prominent name extended to Nevada. The Tarkanian name once counted for a lot on the basketball court, but not so much in politics these days. Danny Tarkanian was the star point guard in the early ’80s at UNLV, where he was coached by his celebrated towel-chomping father, Jerry Tarkanian. Danny Tarkanian lost his race for a House seat in Congress, his fourth straight political defeat.
Breaking with the family trend was Tom Rooney. The nephew of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, easily won re-election to his U.S. House seat from Florida.
Four ex-NFL players were in the mix: Jon Runyan, a lineman who spent most of his 14 NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, held his New Jersey seat in Congress; Clint Didier, once a star tight end for the Redskins, lost his race to become public lands commissioner in the state of Washington; Phil Hansen, a defensive end who played on three Super Bowl teams for the Bills, was in a tight race for the Minnesota Legislature; and Jimmy Farris (Falcons, Redskins) was trounced in his bid for a U.S. House seat from Idaho.
In college basketball, Al Lawson, once a Florida A&M star and assistant coach to Hugh Durham at Florida State, was beaten in a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida. Jim Tedisco, a Union College star in the early ’70s, was on his way to victory in the New York Legislature.
A one-time Harlem Globetrotter provided some razzle-dazzle in Arkansas. Fred Smith, of the Green Party, was elected to the Legislature when a judge said no votes would be counted for his opponent because of a felony conviction.
In a sports-related ballot measure, Glendale, Ariz., voters rejected a sales tax enacted this summer, but it’s still uncertain what this does to the proposed sale of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Associated Press writers Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn., and Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington in Florida contributed to this report.