With less than two months to go before Election Day, the race for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 has started to turn personal.
The latest round of spars between the GOP nominee, millionaire wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, and Democrat Chris Murphy, who represents Connecticut’s fifth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, has seen the two fighting over each other’s financial history. At the same time, polls have shown an increasingly narrow race between Murphy and McMahon, raising the stakes of their four upcoming debates.
Last week, Murphy challenged McMahon to reveal how much money her creditors lost on a 1976 bankruptcy that she often cites on the campaign trail. McMahon, meanwhile, has blasted Murphy for the low mortgage rate he obtained months after his house was foreclosed while he was a U.S. Representative. McMahon’s campaign has questioned how Murphy received a low 4.99 percent mortgage rate while the mortgage market was failing, suggesting that Murphy’s position on the House Financial Services Committee, which regulates banks, could explain it.
“Congressman Murphy owes it to the people of Connecticut to provide full, detailed and honest disclosure about what exactly occurred and how he was able to qualify for a below-market loan rate so soon after default,” McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss said in a Sept. 7 press release.
But Murphy campaign spokesman Ben Marter said the foreclosure was the result of an honest mistake by Murphy and his wife as they married and merged finances, and the missed payments were quickly repaid. The mortgage rate he received months later in July 2008 from Webster Bank was a loan any customer would have received, Marter said.
Murphy added that his quick action to repay his foreclosure differentiates his financial past from McMahon’s bankruptcy.
“I think Linda McMahon and I both made mistakes with our personal finances. The difference is I fixed them while she did everything she could to avoid paying back the people she owed,” Murphy said. “To this day, Linda McMahon has still not payed back the creditors she owed in bankruptcy … I don’t understand why after making back millions of dollars you wouldn’t pay back your debts.”
He also criticized McMahon’s decision to attend only four of nine debates, skipping those held by the Connecticut NAACP and AARP, among others. Murphy said that it points to McMahon’s inability to make her case off script, instead relying on an expensive advertising campaign to get her message to voters.
Despite facing a massive disparity in fundraising — the latest campaign filings in July showed Murphy with $5.5 million and McMahon with $14 million, much of which is from her own pocket — Murphy said he is still optimistic for November. He compared his situation to that of U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, who was outspent by McMahon by an 8-to-1 ratio during the Senate race in 2010 but still pulled off a victory.
While McMahon could spend as much as $60 million on the race, largely in expensive television advertisements, Murphy said he is counting on his supporters to win him the election.
“I’m going to get badly outspent in this race. Linda McMahon is trying to buy this race and I’m going to get outspent on TV,” Murphy said. “[But] I’m going to have more committed volunteers and workers on the streets for me … I’m going to have to win this based on enthusiasm, not money.”
The race in Connecticut could have national significance. With approximately twice as many Democrats up for reelection as Republicans, the outcome of the Connecticut senate contest could determine which party controls the Senate next year.
“This is the most important election of [students’] lives, Connecticut is one of the most important states in the nation when it comes to keeping control of the Senate,” Murphy said. “[Yalies’] vote is gonna make a bigger difference here than almost anywhere else.”
While polls of registered voters have given Murphy a substantial lead over McMahon, Connecticut, traditionally an easy win for Democrats, may have shifted to the right. A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters — those who pollsters assume will cast their ballots in November — gave McMahon a one-point lead in late August.
But New York Times blogger Nate Silver, whose forecasting model nearly predicted all the races in the 2008 presidential and Senate elections, Tweeted Friday that Connecticut’s “fundamentals” — its history and ethnic and economic diversity — favor Murphy. He predicted that despite current polls, Murphy should win by a four-point margin in November.
The first debate between McMahon and Murphy will be hosted on Oct. 7 by local television channel WFSB-TV 3 during its political show “Face the State.”