McMahon and Murphy tangle over Medicare, jobs

They are wasting no time.

A day after the primaries, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon’s campaign began automated calls Wednesday to 300,000 older voters, accusing Democrat Chris Murphy of voting to cut their Medicare benefits — a mischaracterization of the record.

And Murphy challenged McMahon to a debate next week on their jobs plans.

Each tactic was a reaction to a perceived vulnerability.

McMahon has built her campaign around a six-point jobs plan, and she has regularly tweaked Murphy for having “a work in progress,” not a formal plan. McMahon, who only agreed to two one-on-one debates with Chris Shays during the GOP primary, countered with a demand for two debates on jobs, though none next week.

“Chris Murphy’s embarrassing challenge doesn’t go nearly far enough,” said Corry Bliss, her campaign manager. “We propose four statewide debates — two of which must be focused entirely on the issue of job creation in Connecticut.”

Democrats nationally are trying to put Republicans on the defensive over Medicare, using GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s selection of budget hawk Paul Ryan as his runningmate to raise the specter of Medicare and Social Security cuts.

The automated calls directed at Murphy stem from his vote as a congressman for the Affordable Care Act, which assumes a long-term savings of $700 billion in Medicare spending, but the law makes no cuts in Medicare benefits.

“There’s only one candidate who’s voted to cut Medicare for current recipients,” a caller says in the audio. “That’s right, those receiving benefits right now. And that’s Chris Murphy.”

The robo-call echoes themes in a new ad by Romney. Democrats who voted for — or even praised  — the Affordable Care Act are coming under similar attacks.

“It’s demonstrably false,” said Ben Marter, a spokesman for Murphy.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for McMahon, defended the automated call, saying that the $700 billion cut undermines the long-term solvency of Medicare, especially if the lower reimbursement rates on which the cuts are partially based prove untenable.

“His vote directly undercuts the underpinnings of the program itself,” Murtaugh said. “It threatens the immediate future of the program as a whole.”

The fiscal responsibility of Congress toward Medicare is a fair question, but that is unlikely to be the impression left in a call to seniors.

“I don’t know about you, but I rely on my Medicare benefits,” the caller says. “And politicians like Chris Murphy need to keep their hands off.”

The automated calls come a day after McMahon and Murphy easily won their party’s nominations in primaries.

On McMahon’s part, the calls are meant to blunt a Murphy line of attack on McMahon: The election of a Republican could tip control of the Senate to the GOP, jeopardizing Medicare.

Like many Democrats, Murphy was quick to seize on Romney’s selection Saturday of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as a running-mate. Ryan has called for his own $700 billion in Medicare cuts.

“Congressman Ryan’s budget plan has become a litmus test for Republican candidates,” Murphy’s spokeswoman, Taylor Lavender, said in a statement. “Does Linda McMahon also support Congressman Ryan’s disastrous budget? Connecticut’s seniors and middle class families deserve to know.”

McMahon quickly issued a response: She never will support a budget that cuts Medicare.

If there was any doubt — McMahon has been spending heavily on negative ads about Murphy, long before the primary — the general election has begun.

Murphy and McMahon each had public appearances Wednesday: Murphy continued his jobs tour in Wallingford, where he issued his debate challenge, while McMahon campaigned with Republican elected officials in Fairfield and Danbury, including one of Shays’ most prominent backers, state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield.

Murtaugh said the challenge for a quickie debate was a “campaign stunt.” But McMahon’s counter had its own condition: a demand that one of the two jobs debates be held in Groton, the home of Electric Boat.