Senate candidates avoid specifics in debate

In their third of four debates, U.S. Senate candidates Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon continued to evade describing specific policies in favor of criticizing one another’s pasts.

The candidates met at the Garde Arts center in New London, Conn. for a town hall-style debate sponsored by local TV channel WTNH and the New London Day, the city’s newspaper. After several polls last week gave Murphy, a Democrat, a small lead in the upcoming election to replace current U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, the two candidates were eager to cast one another as unfit to represent Connecticut in the Senate. Though debate questions involved the candidates’ plans to restructure entitlement programs, their views on women’s access to contraception and U.S. involvement in Iran, both used their answers to blast each others’ records and personal character.

In one exchange, Murphy pointed out that, during her tenure as CEO of the wrestling television network WWE, McMahon took $10 million in tax cuts from the state and laid off over 100 workers.

“This is a perfect example of tax credits not creating jobs when a CEO puts herself ahead of dozens of her own employees,” he said.

McMahon countered that Murphy had not put forward a specific plan to bolster job growth or deal with climbing federal entitlement spending. She added that his record as a U.S. representative from Connecticut’s fifth district did not boast job creation.

“I don’t know why you haven’t already put forth your plan,” she said to Murphy during the debate. “Why haven’t you already created these jobs? You haven’t created any jobs.”

Throughout the hour-long debate, both echoed stances that have been overshadowed by personal attacks from the other side. Murphy voiced his support for increased education spending, while McMahon opposed spending more money on public schools without first strengthening the state’s economy. Murphy repeated his support to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans making less than $250,000 a year, while McMahon praised tax cuts as a way to bolster spending and create jobs.

On issues of defense, the two candidates came to a concensus: Both agreed that Congress should take stronger measures to combat possible cyberattacks, and both supported placing stronger economic sanctions on Iran.

Throughout the night, both candidates sought to cast doubt on their opponents’ honesty. When McMahon dodged a question on whether she would consider raising the taxable salary cap for federal payroll taxes, Murphy accused her of shielding her true views on the topic because they would be unpalatable to her constituents. He then read a quote from McMahon at a Tea Party rally in April in which she supported phasing out entitlement programs as they exist today, but McMahon charged that he had read the quote out of context.

Unlike in past debates, neither candidate brought up the hot-button controversies that have defined their race so far. McMahon avoided discussing a 2008 mortgage that Murphy received soon after a foreclosure while he sat on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee. And Murphy did not allude to McMahon’s 1976 bankruptcy, after which McMahon did not pay back any of her debts until her 2012 campaign against Murphy.

In his closing statement, Murphy emphasized that his record set him up to represent Connecticut’s interests in the U.S. Senate. McMahon, meanwhile, used her closing remarks to appeal to the crowd to elect the state’s first female senator — but no one heard, as a pre-programmed epidode of Law and Order interrupted McMahon’s remarks at 8 p.m.

The final debate between the two candidates will take place on Thursday in Hartford, Conn.

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