McMahon, Murphy (and audience and Murphy) clash in New London debate

New London — Democrat Chris Murphy faced a lively and hostile debate audience Monday night that cheered Republican Linda McMahon and disrupted Murphy’s answers with boos and shouts from the darkness of the Garde Arts Center.

In the third of their four televised U.S. Senate debates, Murphy and McMahon broke new ground by sharply disagreeing over the free-speech rights of corporations, the public financing of campaigns and, generally, the role of money in politics.

Senate debate

The candidates meet. (Photo by Tim Martin, The Day)

And McMahon reinforced the depth of her faith in tax cuts as economic stimulus, channeling Ronald Reagan’s defense of trickle-down economics by saying, “A rising tide will lift all boats.”

But it was the crowd that asserted itself with repeated interruptions of Murphy that ranged from derisive laughter to boos to one woman’s shout for him to simply “shut up.”

Darren Kramer, the WTNH anchor who served as moderator, was ineffective in taming the crowd. Neither McMahon, nor Murphy asked their supporters to remain silent.

“Linda McMahon doesn’t want to debate the issues, and so today’s new tactic was to bring a bunch of people who would shout me down,” Murphy said told reporters after the debate. “I think the people of the state are increasingly finding out that Linda McMahon is desperate not to talk about the issues.”

Chris LaCivita, a consultant to the McMahon campaign, called Murphy’s complaint “absurd.” McMahon simply said, “It seemed like a lively audience on both sides.”


A battle of the signs took before the debate between Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy. (Photo by Tim Martin, The Day)

It was the McMahon campaign, however, that later cried foul. Her closing statement was cut off on the broadcast on WTNH’s sister station, MyTV9, as the debate ran past 8 p.m. Instead of the end of McMahon’s statement, viewers saw the opening of a “Law & Order” rerun.

“As a matter of fairness and out of respect to both Linda McMahon and viewers of tonight’s U.S. Senate debate, we expect WTNH-TV to play Linda’s two-minute closing statement in its entirety on both its 10:00 News on MyTV9 and its 11:00 broadcast on News 8. It is unfortunate Linda’s statement was disrupted, but we believe the voters of Connecticut deserve to hear both sides in this important election,” said Corry Bliss, her campaign manager.

Bliss said he was told that WTNH and MyTV9 would rebroadcast both candidates’ closing statements.

With New London sitting across the Thames River from Electric Boat and the U.S. Navy’s submarine base, debates here can be dominated by defense issues. That was not the case Monday night.

McMahon challenged Murphy on his votes against defense authorization bills shortly before their closing statements.

Murphy, who previously has said his votes against the bills were over his opposition to an open-ended military role in Afghanistan, did not reply to McMahon in his closing remarks.

McMahon failed to capitalize on a submarine-related zinger prepared by her campaign: The discovery that stock footage of a submarine used by Murphy in a commercial actually showed a Norwegian sub. She never mentioned it.

The two candidates agreed on what should be the U.S. stance to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, with each supporting the economic sanctions as a first-response. McMahon said she considered an Iranian attack on Israel as an attack on the U.S. Murphy called Israel a crucial ally to be protected by the U.S.

As in the previous two debates, McMahon and Murphy scuffled over the depth of McMahon’s commitment to women’s reproductive health rights and her willingness to stand independently of a deeply conservative U.S. Senate leadership.

McMahon again called herself “pro-choice,” but Murphy highlighted her support of the Blunt Amendment allowing employers to deny contraceptive coverage as a matter of conscience and her opposition to a state law requiring that all hospitals provide the morning-after pill to rape victims, if asked.

At every turn, McMahon tried to steer the conversation to the economy and her jobs plan, the heart of which is tax cuts for corporations, small businesses and the middle class.

“I think I just keep reinforcing to the voters of Connecticut that they need to look at a Senate candidate who has a plan to put people back to work,” McMahon said after the debate.

“This is going to reinvigorate our economy,”McMahon said of her proposed tax cuts during the debate. “It’s going to put people back to work.”

Murphy said tax cuts, especially for high-income taxpayers, is not an effective economic stimulus. McMahon previously has also called for extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

“This isn’t theory any more, folks. This is empirical fact,” Murphy said. “When you continue to pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy, that money doesn’t trickle down to everyone else.”