Senate candidates Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon squared off Thursday in their fourth and final debate before the Nov. 6 election, sparring over a wide range of topics including Social Security, abortion and taxes.
The debate, which was held at the Hilton Hartford Hotel and sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcasters Association, began with a contentious exchange over Social Security and Medicare. McMahon asserted several times that she would not support a budget that cut Social Security or Medicare benefits for current seniors, and she also criticized Murphy for voting to remove $716 billion from Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act. Murphy defended his actions, arguing the cuts will come from insurance company reimbursements and not program beneficiaries, before attacking McMahon’s position on Medicare reform.
“She’s said repeatedly that she would be open to Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney’s plan to privatize Medicare,” Murphy said during the debate.
The race for the Senate seat that will be vacated with the departure of Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 in January has been extremely tight to this point, though Murphy has built a slight lead during the past few weeks. The race has large national implications, as its outcome could determine which party will control the Senate after the coming election.
Discussion on Thursday focused on abortion and contraception issues for more than 10 minutes of the hour-long debate. Both candidates claim to be pro-choice — when asked directly, both candidates said that they believe life begins at birth — but Murphy argued that McMahon would empower the Republican Party to pursue a pro-life agenda. He argued that as senator, McMahon would give the GOP, which he sees as increasingly “radicalized,” an extra vote that might threaten Roe v. Wade.
McMahon made the case that her position on abortion demonstrates a willingness to diverge from the Republican bloc on certain issues.
“I am a pro-choice candidate,” McMahon said. “I’m an independent thinker, and I will not always vote strictly down party lines.”
Murphy attacked McMahon for her business practices several times during the debate. Throughout the candidates’ discussion on contraception, he said that “the way that she demeaned women in the ring is abhorrent to thousands of women across this state.”
Murphy’s criticism comes as McMahon struggles to attract more women voters. According to polling data released Thursday from the University of Connecticut and the Hartford Courant, Murphy holds an 18-point lead over McMahon among women voters. The poll shows an overall Murphy six-point lead, 44 percent to 38 percent.
McMahon stressed economic issues and her private sector experience. In her closing statement, McMahon tried to frame the election as a choice between a career politician and someone who has created jobs in the private sector.
“The issues of this race are about jobs and the economy, and we need to send, I believe, senators to Washington who have experience creating jobs,” she said.
In addition to debating policy, candidates were also questioned about the aggressive tone that has characterized their campaigning and attack ads.