Murphy changes ad agencies, goes on attack

With a new ad agency on board, the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Chris Murphy began an advertising counterattack Wednesday against Republican Linda McMahon, saying the image she is selling “isn’t real.”

The commercial is the first produced for Murphy by Message & Media, a new agency the Murphy campaign hired to replace Struble Eichenbaum. The hiring and firing was made without public notice by the campaign.

“We’re not commenting on changes to the team,” said Ben Marter, a spokesman for Murphy. The changes were confirmed by other advertising and political sources.

The changes come as Murphy is defending against bad publicity over personal financial difficulties and as McMahon has edged into a slight lead in public polling, alarming Washington Democrats who had hoped to avoid investing in a Senate campaign in a blue state.

Marter’s refusal to discuss the reasons for the advertising switch — or to even acknowledge it — is an indication that the Murphy camp is intent on not feeding an image of a campaign on its heels.

But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is now airing its own ads, part of a $320,000 buy in Connecticut that is no vote of confidence in the ability of Murphy, a three-term congressman, to right the ship without help.

Earlier in the election cycle, the DSCC seemed optimistic it could avoid spending money in Connecticut, long a reliable state for Democrats in U.S. Senate races. Now, Murphy is re-tooling his message, reaching out to a former DSCC ad man.

Brian Smoot, the managing director of Message & Media, oversaw the independent-expenditure ads by the DSCC in 2010, when its roster of targets included McMahon, who was running against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

M&M’s first ad is a blunt effort to refocus voter attention on McMahon.

“The image CEO Linda McMahon is selling isn’t real,” the announcer says. “Her record? McMahon laid off workers while taking millions in tax credits. Denied them health care. Denied disability benefits.

“Now McMahon’s tax plan gives her a seven million dollar tax cut — while Connecticut’s middle class pays more. Hurting workers. Helping herself. The truth?

“Greedy CEO Linda McMahon was never on our side. And she won’t be as Senator.”

Two weeks ago, Murphy told The Mirror he had no plans to make changes in his campaign team. He said expected a close race, even if Washington pundits and party officials did not.

Given McMahon’s spending, a narrowing of the race was inevitable, he said.

McMahon spent $50 million in 2010, a staggering amount in a state where less than $10 million was enough to win an open seat for governor in 2010. She has money, but she is fighting history.

For the second time in two election cycles, Connecticut has an open Senate seat. And for the second time in as many cycles, the GOP nominee is McMahon, a World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder who is self-funding her campaign.

The result is a relatively seamless four-year run by McMahon, who is trying to become the first woman elected to the Senate from Connecticut.

If victorious, she would be the first freshman Republican senator from the state in 42 years.

The last Republican to win a seat in Connecticut was Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who was elected in 1970 and held the seat until losing in 1988 to Joseph I. Lieberman, who is not seeking re-election.

Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager, told supporters in an email blast that Murphy was trying to distract the electorate.

“You can see exactly what Congressman Murphy has learned by watching his false, negative attack ads against Linda,” he said. “He’s learned that his only shot at winning a seat in the U.S. Senate is by distracting voters from his own failed record in elected office.”