Exclusive: Linda McMahon on Pro Wrestling, Sarah Palin

In exclusive interview, Conn. Senate hopeful says pro wrestling is "soap opera."

ByABC News
August 9, 2010, 9:40 AM

Aug. 9, 2010 — -- Linda McMahon is best known as the matriarch of the World Wrestling Entertainment empire. So it may come as a shock to see her shaking hands and kissing babies at wholesome state fairs and upscale coffee klatches in her quest to become Connecticut's next U.S. senator.

McMahon's campaign had spent $18 million as of June 30, saturating the airwaves with ads re-introducing her to the public -- not as the woman who once chugged a beer in the ring with Steve "Stone Cold" Austin, but rather a tough-as-nails CEO who transformed a haphazard wrestling circuit into a publicly traded corporation.

And so far, it's worked. McMahon is the front-runner in the Republican primary being held tomorrow.

Watch Bill Weir's interview with Linda McMahon tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

But running as an outsider ready to shake up Washington based on one's business record doesn't come easy when the business is professional wrestling. McMahon has faced questions throughout the campaign about everything from the WWE's allegedly spotty record on steroid abuse to the fact that the company doesn't provide health insurance to its wrestlers.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Nightline anchor Bill Weir, McMahon attributed the high rate of premature deaths in professional wrestling to the "personal habits" of wrestlers and stood by the health policies of the WWE, which drew fire during Congressional hearings in the 1990s.

"It's unfortunate, you know, that you can't change people's -- habits, their personal habits," McMahon told Weir. "I mean, OK, you know, Heath Ledger. That's an ... that's an awful story. It's an addiction. And so... if any of those professional wrestlers who died young had addictions that were outside of the ... which were their practices when they were outside of WWE, we don't have any control over that."

"While they're in WWE, we absolutely have a health and wellness policy," McMahon said. "I'll probably always say 'we,' even though I've resigned as the CEO. It's kind of hard to break a 30-year habit. The WWE has absolutely a very strong health and wellness policy in place, to protect these men and women who perform in this action-adventure soap opera every week."

McMahon has said she is willing to spend $50 million of her own fortune on her campaign. She spoke with "Nightline" not only about the culture of professional wrestling, but also about whether she'd accept or seek an endorsement from Sarah Palin and, should she win the primary, how she will campaign against her general election opponent, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the state's attorney general, who admitted to misstating his Vietnam War record.