Senate Democratic candidates play nice at first debate

Mansfield — As the three Democratic candidates vying to be Connecticut’s next U.S. senator took the stage for their first debate, the directions were simple: keep it positive and don’t attack your Democratic competitors.

“Refrain from negative comments,” said Ronald Schurin, a UConn professor who was moderator. “It will not be like the Republican [presidential] debates.”


Democratic Senate hopefuls

Susan Bysiewicz introduced herself to the 200 people attending the event by dismissing any suggestion that U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, the front-runner in fundraising and polling, will be the Democratic nominee. He’s made statements recently that he is aiming to avoid a primary.

“You know, in this primary we have the opportunity to send the best person,” said Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state. “Who should we send that will stand up for the middle class?”

Eight more debates are scheduled before the Democratic nominating convention in May and primary in August.

“This isn’t really about the three of us,” Murphy said.

A few minutes later he was telling his audience about the local political heavyweights who prefer his candidacy to the two Democrats standing next to him. He made a point to mention the endorsement of state Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

The third candidate, state Rep. William Tong of Stamford, the self-proclaimed long-shot in the race, turned to the evils of money in politics and getting elected.

In this race Murphy has far outraised his two competitors, mostly from lawyers, financial investors and retired people. Tong, whose campaign bank account has shrunk in each of the past two quarterly finance reports, said it’s time to get the money and special interests out of the process so long-shots can get elected.

“That is the Washington (wealthy GOP Senate hopeful) Linda McMahon wants to run against,” he said. “This is not a moment for front-runners… We need an underdog.”

Issues at the forum, which was sponsored by Democrats in the northeastern corner of the state, mostly centered around helping the middle class. Both Murphy and Bysiewicz said if elected they would vote to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, and use the money for education and paying off the nation’s debt.

“We need a fair tax code,” Murphy said.

Bysiewicz also said she would propose a securities transaction tax and spend that money to help homeowners in danger of foreclosure and to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.