Murphy reaches for the reset button in Senate race

Hartford — Democrat Chris Murphy tried to hit the reset button Tuesday on his U.S. Senate campaign, asking voters and the media to look past the personal attacks dominating the race and focus on issues separating him and Republican Linda McMahon.

“Her campaign said the other day that talking about the issues is a ‘senseless exercise.’ Well, Linda McMahon is right about that,” he said. “For her, talking about the issues is a senseless exercise. It’s a prescription for her to lose this campaign.”


Chris Murphy meets the press and protesters in Bushnell Park.

Murphy, a three-term congressman, said McMahon is using her wealth and overheated personal attacks to avoid talking about her positions on tax cuts for the wealthy, women’s health coverage and a GOP plan to privatize Medicare.

“So here’s my challenge to Linda McMahon,” Murphy said. “Will you join me in making this campaign about anything, about something that matters to the people of the state of Connecticut?”

But Murphy’s effort to refocus the race was undermined by his refusal to release documents central to McMahon’s increasingly blunt attacks over a $43,000 home-equity loan from Webster Bank she says was either fraudulent or a sweetheart deal.

Over the past three days, the McMahon campaign has shifted from suggestive questions about the loan to an outright accusation that Murphy is dishonest. Her campaign manager, Corry Bliss, now routinely refers to Murphy as “a corrupt, career politician” and calls Murphy’s refusal to release the documents a coverup.

“The hypocrisy in Congressman Murphy calling for an issues-focused campaign is staggering,” Bliss said Tuesday. “Chris Murphy clearly doesn’t want to acknowledge it, but the fact that he is a corrupt, career politician in full coverup mode has become one of the biggest issues of this campaign.”

Webster has defended the loan, saying that Murphy and his wife, Cathy, who is a lawyer, met underwriting standards in 2008 for a 4.99 percent interest rate on the home-equity line, despite collection actions against Murphy over late rent and mortgage payments. Both collection lawsuits were settled by Murphy making the overdue payments.

Murphy was charged a full percentage point higher than the bank’s best advertised rate and 1.5 points higher than the rate extended to its most credit-worthy customers.

But Murphy has not explained why he won’t open his financial records, other than saying to do so would not stop McMahon’s attacks. The wealthy co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment is setting records for political spending in Connecticut on her 2010 and 2012 races for the Senate.

“No matter what I say, it’s not going to stop Linda McMahon from continuing to run lies on TV,” Murphy said. “But I know what voters want. Voters want this campaign to be about issues, and if I’m talking about issues over the next six weeks and Linda McMahon’s talking about personal attacks and putting lies on TV, I think we win.”

McMahon’s 1976 bankruptcy also has been an issue, as has her late payment on property taxes in Stamford. McMahon last week announced she would repay some creditors from the bankruptcy.

“I’ve made mistakes with my personal finances, but I’ve paid back what I owed,” Murphy said. “And independent analysts who examined Linda’s lies have declared them to be false and out of line.”

Murphy held a press conference in Bushnell Park, surrounded by dozens of supporters and facing a half-dozen McMahon troops, who held signs demanding that Murphy release the documents. They left as a group.

McMahon lost by 12 percentage points to Democrat Richard Blumenthal two years ago, with most polls showing her loss was largely due to her inability to win the votes of women. This year, polling has shown she has narrowed the gender gap.

The congressman and Connecticut Democrats have tried to counterattack by reviving the raunchy programing of WWE’s “Attitude Era,” when some of its storylines, including ones featuring her husband, Vince McMahon, had strong sexual themes.

WWE recently scrubbed clips from those years from YouTube, prompting an unusual request Tuesday from Connecticut Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo: Return the offensive clips to the public realm in the name of transparency.

“The WWE should stop this obvious attempt to cover up her record of selling sex and violence to children,” DiNardo said.

Murphy said McMahon “made her living demeaning women in the ring. Her narrative is all about exploiting women for financial gain.”

McMahon has agreed to four debates, beginning Sunday, Oct. 7, on WFSB, but she has avoided long interviews with newspaper editorial boards.

The campaign recently declined a request by The Mirror for McMahon’s positions on a key issues index published in the 2010 and 2012 editions of “The Almanac of American Politics.”

Her press spokesman, Todd Abrajano, called it a “senseless exercise,” noting that some of the votes occurred six years ago. He said McMahon’s sole focus was the economy.