Spotlight on wrestling in final Blumenthal-McMahon debate

NEW LONDON — Richard Blumenthal aggressively argued Tuesday night in the third and final U.S. Senate debate that Linda McMahon’s two decades of selling professional wrestling is no match for his career in public service.

Helped by a pointed question emailed by a viewer, the Democratic attorney general pressed the Republican wrestling entrepreneur about sex, violence, steroid abuse and even dead wrestlers during a debate televised live on MyTv9.

“Mrs. McMahon, how can you possibly defend the total and disgusting degradation of women on World Wrestling?” was a question posed by WTNH reporter Mark Davis on behalf of a viewer.

“Well, let me just say I am incredibly proud of the company that I have helped build from the ground up,” said McMahon, the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment.  “The company over the last two decades has evolved from just a traveling road show to a corporate citizen that it is today, traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol, WWE.”

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Richard Blumenthal and Linda McMahon (CT Mirror)

McMahon, who seemed to be struggling with a hoarse throat all night, only made a passing concession to some of the outlandish story lines and antics that have popped up as YouTube clips since she jumped into the race a year ago. She noted the company has changed its programming from TV-14 to a tamer TV-PG rating.

“I am very happy and much more contented today with the content that is part of WWE’s soap opera,” McMahon said. “I think there were times when we pushed the envelope.”

Blumenthal was more aggressive than in previous debates in confronting McMahon about WWE, but it seemed he could have pressed harder. Her answer provided an opening for a dramatic moment, for Blumenthal to question if the abuse of women and the mentally disabled was merely pushing the envelope. Instead he settled for contrasting his career with hers.

“Throughout my 20-year career I have fought to protect children from abuse and neglect, from dangers, the marketing of sex and violence, whether it’s on the internet or other places,” Blumenthal said. “And I made a record of fighting to safeguard children.”

Blumenthal criticized McMahon for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars – he misspoke during the debate and referred to hundreds of millions – lobbying Washington against penalties for marketing sex and violence to children.

McMahon, however, saw nothing to apologize for in her years at WWE.

“You can always change the channel or decide not to go to that particular movie,” McMahon said. “I think it’s insulting to the millions of people who watch WWE every week and are entertained by it to somehow suggest it is less than quality entertainment.”

Blumenthal’s advisors say their research shows that voters have limited concerns about WWE programming, but they are interested in the company’s operations outside the ring, including the abuse of steroids and the deaths of wrestlers and former wrestlers.

To that end,  Blumenthal said seven wrestlers have died since McMahon became a candidate. And he reminded the audience that McMahon has not conceded that steroids are harmful.

“She continues to refuse to acknowledge the long-term health consequences of steroid use, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that it is a problem,” he said. “So, I can stand on my record.”

McMahon did not address the dangers of steroids.

Blumenthal told reporters after the debate that he enjoyed the forum at the Garde Arts Center. It was sponsored by The Day of New London and WTNH. McMahon skipped the post-debate press conference.

“The debate spoke for itself,” said her spokesman, Ed Patru.

He declined to comment on McMahon’s health. Her voice seemed noticeably strained at times.

Blumenthal, who initially agreed to three debates, recently agreed to a fourth forum that would have been televised Friday by WFSB and CPTV, but McMahon declined earlier Tuesday.

The one thing that Blumethal and McMahon agreed on Tuesday night is that they are of markedly different backgrounds.

McMahon repeatedly contrasted her business experience with Blumenthal’s lifelong career in government, including jobs in the White House, the Justice Department, as a U.S. Supreme Court clerk and 26 years in elective office, including 20 as attorney general.

“Mr. Blumenthal’s entire career has been in government, so he doesn’t understand about creating jobs,” McMahon said. “I would just ask him, Mr. Blumenthal, have you created any jobs in our country?”

At their previous debate, she challenged him to explain how jobs are created, and his halting answer quickly became featured on a McMahon television ad.

This time, he ignored the question.