Connecticut Republicans have got their celebrity smackdown nominee for the US Senate—whether they want her or not.

Most of them, it turns out, would have preferred not to nominate World Wrestling Federation executive Linda McMahon. She could not muster even half the GOP primary vote Tuesday, despite spending more than $25 million on one of the most expensive Senate primary runs in history.

With over half the vote counted, McMahon had 49 percent to 29 percent for former Congressman Rob Simmons and 22 percent for Ron Paul-ist businessman Peter Schiff.

Considering the fact that Simmons quit the race and then struggled with whether to get back in until the last minute—when it was still unclear whether he was fully committed to the run—McMahon’s finish counts as a technical win. And an ugly one at that, since many leading Republicans and conservatives commentators expressed open dismay with her candidacy in the late stages of a primary that tended to be more focused on revelations regarding the WWF than the task of defeating Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal’s well ahead in the polls and the Democratic National Committee was celebrating the McMahon "win" with a press release that declared: “Today the party of Bob Dole, Jack Kemp and Dick Lugar nominated a candidate who kicks men in the crotch, thinks of scenes of necrophilia as ‘entertainment,’ and runs an operation where women are forced to bark like dogs. This is what has become of the once grand old party.”


But Democrats also had their money moment Tuesday, as Colorado’s appointed Senator Michael Bennet parlayed a 5-1 spending advantage over challenger Andrew Romanoff—the former state House Speaker and favorite of grassroots party activists who sold own home to stay in the running against a wealthy free-spending foe—into a narrow 54-46 win in that state’s Democratic primary.

Bennet also had the backing of President Obama, which may have been a definitional factor for the appointee whose background in business and as a school administrator provided fodder for a number of newspaper investigations. He now faces a tough fall race with Republican Ken Buck, a Tea Party favorite who beat the pick of the national GOP (former Lt. Governor Jane Norton) in a close race Tuesday.

By most traditional standards, Republican McMahon and Democrat Bennet may be weak nominees. But don’t count either one out this fall. They’ve both got money—and money, more than party or ideology, is proving to be the most powerful force in primaries from California to New England during the first stage of this volatile election year.