Hartford — With his endorsement virtually assured, an animated Chris Murphy told the Connecticut AFL-CIO Monday that its help is essential to his winning a U.S. Senate seat against “a right-wing cabal” intent on strangling labor.
Murphy, a three-term Democratic congressman seeking the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, ignored attacks by Susan Bysiewicz, his rival for the Democratic nomination, and focused labor’s attention on Republican Linda McMahon.
Delegates to the labor federation’s political convention cheered Murphy as he yelled that he has a simple message to McMahon and the billionaire backers of conservative “super PACs” who think they can buy elections: “Hell, no!”
Murphy cast the 2012 election for Connecticut’s open Senate seat as part of an epic struggle between working families and powerful, moneyed interests who intend to spend $1 billion in the fight to control Washington.
“They want to end the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, so they can never stand in the way of profits, and they want to strangle organized labor, so the workers never, ever rise up again,” Murphy said.
Murphy invoked the stories of union men and women who waged historic labor battles, whether it was the women who worked the textile mills of Lowell, Mass., or the autoworkers in Flint, Mich.
“This is another make or break moment for working families,” Murphy said. “It’s game time, and it’s time to start telling people loud and clear what we believe.”
Murphy’s speech seemed directed less at winning over labor than energizing it.
The AFL-CIO’s endorsement committee already has recommended that Murphy get the full backing of the labor federation Tuesday at the close of the two-day convention.
It also is backing House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, over Elizabeth Esty and Dan Roberti for Murphy’s 5th District seat. All three Democrats addressed and took questions from delegates Monday.
Murphy credited the AFL-CIO for helping Democrats win every congressional seat in Connecticut in 2010, when Republicans were surging elsewhere.
“You want to know why Connecticut survived that tidal wave of Republican wins across the country?” Murphy said. “We did it because you built the biggest and the baddest grass-roots effort in the country.”
Murphy, Bysiewicz and McMahon addressed delegates Monday, and Chris Shays, who is opposing McMahon for the GOP nomination, will appear at the convention Tuesday.
“It may be surprising to some of you that I am here today,” said McMahon, who skipped the labor convention during her 2010 campaign. “We obviously don’t agree on all things. But I think what we can agree on absolutely hands down is the need to put our people back to work in our state and in our country.”
Murphy and Bysiewicz will vie for the Democratic nomination in an Aug. 14 primary; McMahon and Shays are the choices on the same day in the Republican primary.
But the endorsement committee interviewed only Murphy and Bysiewicz, two Democrats with long histories of labor support. To the evident frustration of Bysiewicz, unions have been uniting behind Murphy.
Bysiewicz urged delegates to reject Murphy as someone who failed labor on an important vote in May 2010, when he cast a vote again a bill whose provisions would have closed a so-called hedge fund loophole.
“There was a very simple choice: Do you stand with working families for unemployment benefits, for tax credits for college tuition, or do you stand with Mitt Romney and the hedge fund guys?” Bysiewicz said.
Murphy was one of only 34 House Democrats who voted against the bill.
John Olsen, the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said Bysiewicz’s line of attack was familiar, but not credible.
Murphy responded only when asked by reporters, saying he voted to close the loophole three other times.
“Susan’s been trying to land that punch for two years, and I don’t think she’s hit yet,” Murphy said. “People don’t believe what she’s saying. I’ve voted for tax fairness my entire career.”
Bysiewicz has used the May 2010 vote unsuccessfully, trying to block endorsements of Murphy. But liberal groups such at the Connecticut Working Families Party and Connecticut Citizen Action Group have endorsed him.