By Peter Applebome – HARTFORD — Christopher S. Murphy, a 39-year-old three-term Connecticut congressman, defeated the former wrestling executive Linda E. McMahon on Tuesday to win the United States Senate seat held since 1989 by Joseph I. Lieberman, who is retiring.
Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, defeated Ms. McMahon, a Republican, amid heavy turnout to cap a meteoric political rise. Mr. Murphy, a lawyer, first won a seat in the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1998 at age 25 and in 2006 defeated a 24-year incumbent, Nancy Johnson, to represent Connecticut’s Fifth District. He will be the youngest member of the Senate.
The race was long and bitter, dominated by a media barrage by Ms. McMahon, 64, who also lost a bid for the Senate in 2010 against Richard Blumenthal. Over the two races, she spent nearly $100 million, almost all of it her own. In this race, she tried to reach out to women, with whom she performed poorly last time, by softening her image. She also tried to paint Mr. Murphy as a career politician who had been careless about his personal finances.
But Mr. Murphy hit back on traditional Democratic themes, particularly women’s issues, and performed strongly in the candidates’ four debates. And Ms. McMahon, who over the two races spent more of her own money to win a Senate seat than anyone in history, was bucking a stiff Democratic tide in a state that President Obama carried easily and where Democrats hold all the state offices and control both houses of the Legislature. They held on to all five United States House seats in voting Tuesday.
“Tonight we proved that what matters most in life is the measure of your ideas, the measure of your determination, the measure of your friends, not the measure of your wallet,” Mr. Murphy told an exultant crowd here.
He was introduced by Senator Blumenthal, who clearly remembered his own brutal race against Ms. McMahon and relished the outcome of both.
“In Connecticut, we have elections, not auctions,” he said.
In Stamford, Ms. McMahon thanked her supporters and asked them to stay involved with the issues she raised.
“Everyone listen to me,” she said. “Charge them, challenge them to do what we say, because they work for us. If we forget that, shame on us.”
With 72 percent of the vote reporting early Wednesday, Mr. Murphy had won about 53 percent of the vote, with 45 percent for Ms. McMahon.
Exit polls indicated that more than two-thirds of voters said that which party controlled the Senate was a very important part of their vote, a clear advantage for Mr. Murphy.
Ms. McMahon’s background as the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment — which she used to describe herself as a successful businesswoman, and which her opponents used to portray her as a purveyor of crass entertainment — was not as prominent a part of the campaign as it was in 2010. Still, according to exit polls, roughly 4 in 10 voters said Ms. McMahon’s wrestling background played a role in their vote, and of those, 9 to 1 went for Mr. Murphy.
And, despite advertisements aimed at softening her image, slightly more than half of voters said Mr. Murphy had high ethical standards, while only 4 in 10 said that about Ms. McMahon. Mr. Murphy won the women’s vote by about 15 percentage points.
And, as in 2010, it appeared there were limits to what Ms. McMahon’s advertising artillery could accomplish.
Mark Gudim, 31, a home inspector from Brookfield, said he was an unaffiliated voter and was undecided until a few weeks ago when “I couldn’t take the advertisements anymore.”
“I drive a lot every day for work, and every time I turned on the radio, there she was,” he said. “It wasn’t about what she was going to do, it was always bashing Chris Murphy. It definitely got old.”
Mr. Murphy’s election capped a night on which Democrats were poised to control all six Senate seats in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In New York, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, who was appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson and then won a special election in 2010 to serve out Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate term, defeated her Republican opponent, Wendy E. Long.
In New Jersey, the incumbent, Robert Menendez, defeated Joe Kyrillos, a Republican state senator and a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie.
The Connecticut race was the most contested of the three and gained considerable national attention as Ms. McMahon’s aggressive, well-financed campaign put Mr. Murphy on the defensive and brought the race to a dead heat in several polls before the four debates last month. But national Democrats and outside groups threw some money into the race on Mr. Murphy’s behalf, and Ms. McMahon began drawing heat for remarks she made in April proposing provisions that would allow the reconsideration of Social Security and for refusing to provide specifics on programs like Social Security and Medicare until after the election.