Republican U.S. Senate contender Linda McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive who sometimes entered the ring, answered a plea to cease personal attacks with a renewed assault against Chris Murphy, her Democratic opponent, in their second debate.
McMahon, 64, portrayed herself as a job creator and tax cutter, and said Murphy hasn’t got a jobs plan. Murphy, 39, accused her of smearing his character with attack advertisements and said she wouldn’t explain her positions on entitlement programs, women’s reproductive rights and health care, during the forum yesterday at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
“I think you asked Linda McMahon about whether she was going to stop the character assaults,” Murphy said to the moderator amid applause in the half-full hall after the Republican questioned a home loan he got.
“Congressman Murphy talks about everything but jobs because he has no plan,” she said in response. “I would only say, ‘please release the documents’” about the loan, she said.
Personal finances dominated much of the discussion, echoing attack ads that have flooded the airwaves in Connecticut with 25 days to go before the Nov. 6 election. The race in the largely Democratic state has drawn national attention as McMahon pulled ahead of Murphy in recent voter surveys. She lost her first Senate campaign two years ago after spending more than $46 million of her personal fortune on the bid. At stake may be control of the chamber, where Democrats hold a slim majority.
The candidates are vying for the chance to succeed U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent who decided against seeking re-election. He has mostly voted with Democrats.
McMahon has tried to hone a softer image to gain support among women, a group that went against her in the failed 2010 campaign. The World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. co-founder was hobbled then by attacks as a promoter of violent and misogynistic shows produced by the company she ran with her husband, Vince McMahon. The couple and their children often appeared on camera, entering the ring clad in business attire. Sometimes she kicked opponents in the groin.
The Republican, who left her Stamford, Connecticut-based company in 2009, has used TV ads to attack Murphy over his congressional record while portraying herself as a grandmother who built a company in the state and will bring an outsider’s views to Washington. She has spent almost $20 million on this year’s campaign following her 2010 defeat by former state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat.
Referring to herself as someone “who values showing up at work,” McMahon said Murphy is a career politician who has supported failed policies, tying him to the nation’s ballooning debt and an unemployment rate that last month fell below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009.
Murphy branded her as a hypocrite after she walked away from her debts by declaring bankruptcy in the 1970s and said she had been evasive on her policy stances.
“Linda McMahon is addicted to personal attacks,” said Murphy, who has represented the state’s Fifth District in Congress since 2007. She “cannot talk about the issues. She doesn’t want to tell people what she stands for,” he said.
McMahon said Murphy failed to turn up for congressional hearings 75 percent of the time. As for her debts, she replied, “I eventually paid them back,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
Murphy needs to provide details about his loan and explain his congressional record, McMahon said. She defended an ad that says he got a special deal on a mortgage from a bank that received federal aid because of his position in the U.S. House of Representatives.
McMahon’s ads, coupled with years of campaigning, have helped her narrow a gap among women and build a 9 percentage point lead with independents, according to an Oct. 4 survey from Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. It gave McMahon an edge, with 48 percent to Murphy’s 47 percent, though the difference had narrowed from 49 percent for McMahon to 46 percent for Murphy in its Aug. 28 poll of likely voters.
Murphy, who previously served in the state Senate and House, narrowed the gap in recent weeks by attacking tax breaks McMahon got as a corporate chief executive officer and the profit her company produced.
While still trailing Murphy among women, with those likely to vote favoring the congressman 50 percent to 44 percent for McMahon, she has made inroads, according to Doug Schwartz, the head of Quinnipiac’s polling institute. The debates may help Murphy because he isn’t well-known statewide, and they may hurt McMahon with women if she seems too aggressive, Schwartz said.
McMahon has also benefited from a narrower margin of support for President Barack Obama in the state compared with four years ago, according to Schwartz. Obama led Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, in the fight for Connecticut’s seven electoral votes, 54 percent to 42 percent in the Oct. 4 poll. Obama beat Arizona Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, by 23 precentage points in the Nutmeg State.
More women supported McMahon than Romney, with Obama, a Democrat, holding a 59 percent to 37 percent lead over Romney in that category, according to the survey last week. Among independents, she led 52 percent to 43 percent for Murphy.
Voters had a more favorable view of McMahon than Murphy, the Quinnipiac poll showed. More respondents had a negative view of the Democrat, 40 percent to 36 percent positive in the survey, while 45 percent had a positive opinion of the Republican to 41 percent negative.
“Her favorability is one of her assets,” Schwartz said before the second debate. “She’s built up this positive image. But she risks hurting her image if she goes too hard against Murphy. That could backfire.”