Former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon and U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy traded jobs plans and jabs in a spirited debate Thursday at the University of Connecticut.
The debate, held at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the Storrs campus, was the second of four debates between the candidates, who are vying to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Joseph Lieberman.
The discussion touched on the candidates' stances on everything from health care to the economy to foreign policy. Supporters of each candidate rallied outside the Jorgensen Center prior to the debate, holding signs and shouting slogans championing both McMahon and Murphy.
It has already been a controversial and at times downright personal race between the two, and Thursday's debate was no different. At various points in the debate, both McMahon and Murphy called the other's claims untruthful, clashed over issues of integrity and honesty and assailed each other over who was best suited to represent the people of Connecticut in the Senate.
"At some point, arithmetic has to matter in this debate," Murphy said when contrasting his economic polices with McMahon's, accusing McMahon of signing conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" to never raise taxes under any circumstances and saying McMahon planned to balance the budget through cuts to social services and programs that would impact the middle class.
McMahon accused Murphy, who was elected to Congress in 2006, of supporting "failed polices" that have damaged the middle class and the Connecticut economy. She said her six-point plan cuts taxes for the middle class while maintaining the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers, cuts domestic spending by 1 percent, and develops a comprehensive and sustainable energy policy for America that includes a combination of exploration for more fossil fuels and supporting advancements in renewable energy. McMahon said Murphy had yet to unveil a coherent jobs plan.
"It's just a fiction. It's made up," Murphy replied, noting that he has championed the Buy American Act while in office and that he supported closing loopholes in the law that he said would lead to the creation of an additional 600,000 manufacturing jobs in America.
"It's not a slogan to them, it's their livelihood," Murphy said. "And we should take seriously the premise that when we send our taxpayer dollars to Washington, they should be used here."
McMahon said she supported extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, including the highest income earners, because letting them expire would damage the American economy.
"We're barely out of a recession," McMahon said. "I don't think that now is the time to raise taxes."
But Murphy said McMahon's stance would result in a multimillion-dollar "tax cut" for her and other affluent Americans.
"We know that tax cuts for the rich don't work because we tried it during the Bush administration. If tax cuts for the rich worked, then we wouldn't be in this situation," Murphy said. "… Does it make sense to give Linda McMahon another $7 million tax cut, or try and put construction workers back on the job?"
The pair clashed again over the issue of health care and contraceptives for women. Murphy accused McMahon of supporting the Blunt Amendment, which he said would allow any employer to refuse to cover their employees' contraceptives on ethical grounds.
"That's just simply not true," McMahon replied. "I'm a pro-choice candidate. Always have been, and have not changed that."
Murphy accused McMahon of trying to backtrack on a number of comments and positions that she had expressed publicly in the past, including an instance where Murphy said McMahon once told a Tea Party-backed group that she favored "sunsetting" Social Security and Medicare.
"I'm not putting words in Ms. McMahon's mouth. I'm just saying what she told a Tea Party group," Murphy said. "(It's) really the only time that she's given specifics about her plans for Social Security and Medicare."
McMahon said she would "never support a budget" that would reduce either of those two programs.
"I am not going to support any polices that would reduce benefits to our seniors," McMahon said. "… That's a promise to them. We have to keep that promise."
Throughout the debate, McMahon hammered Murphy to "come clean" about his attendance record at committee meetings while in Congress and about a "special-interest loan" she said Murphy received to refinance his home at a time when most Americans would not have been able to receive a similar loan.
When asked by one of the panelist how McMahon knew Murphy received a "special-interest" loan if she was still asking Murphy to release the records of the loan to the public, McMahon replied, "I've just looked at all of the facts as we know them."
"I just think that personal integrity is an issue," McMahon said, again hammering Murphy to release the documents. "Chris, just show your documents. Won't you do that?"
Murphy called McMahon's assertions "ludicrous" and said that she was "addicted to personal attacks."
"Linda McMahon just cannot talk about the issues in this campaign," Murphy said. "… On the issues, she's wrong. She's not where this state is."
McMahon and Murphy still have two more debates scheduled before Election Day on Nov. 6 — Monday, Oct. 15, and Thursday, Oct. 18.