New London — The series of four Democratic debates for U.S. Senate concluded Monday night with Susan Bysiewicz repeating a discredited line of attack on Chris Murphy that he is the top Democratic congressional recipient of Wall Street cash.
Murphy said Bysiewicz’s inaccuracies are the defining issue of the race, not any difference over their positions on issues ranging from the Bush tax cuts to the preservation of Social Security and Medicare. Bysiewicz stood by her attacks.
“I’ve never seen a candidate intentionally and willfully lie over and over again after she’s been called to the carpet for it. She knows empirically I am not the top recipient of Wall Street money among members of Congress,” Murphy said.
Their televised debate at the Garde Theater was sparsely attended, with plenty of empty seats even in the small VIP section reserved for Bysiewicz and, to a less noticeable degree, for Murphy.
Bysiewicz repeatedly returned to what she hopes will be an effective wedge issue the Democratic primary: Murphy being one of only 34 Democrats to vote in May 2010 against closing a so-called hedge fund loophole, calling it the defining vote of his six years in Congress.
Neither on stage nor in post-debate remarks to the press, did Bysiewicz point to another vote that would support her efforts to portray Murphy as beholden to Wall Street, a claim undermined by his support by liberal, pro-consumer groups.
And her criticism was further blunted by her repeated inaccuracies in describing the money Murphy has received from Wall Street, both in advertising and public statements.
A commercial that said Murphy, a three-term congressman from the 5th District, received more donations from hedge fund managers than any other Democrat was deemed inaccurate by her own staff on the day it aired, but it remained on television for a week.
Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state, said Monday the overall thrust of the ad was fair, so she kept it on the air until Thursday. Older ads are now running, and a new ad will go up soon, she said.
She again defended her claim that Murphy is the top Democratic recipient of Wall Street donations.
“It’s not us. It’s the Center for Responsive Politics,” Bysiewicz said. “Our source is the center.”
But the center does not place Murphy at the top.
The $754,885 donated by industry sources to Murphy since 2006, when he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, is about half the nearly $1.5 million donated to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, in less time, since 2008.
Among candidates for U.S. Senate in 2012, Murphy ranks 10th among all candidates and fifth among Democrats with $328,195. Bysiewicz has raised $77,800 from the same sector.
When challenged, Bysiewicz said the center was too conservative in attributing Murphy donations to financial services firms.
She said a newspaper account placed the amount at $1.2 million. But that still wouldn’t place Murphy at the top of congressional Democrats receiving donations from the financial services sector, even among the members of the small Connecticut delegation.
During the debate, Murphy seemed impatient for Aug. 15, the day after the Democratic primary. He repeatedly ignored Bysiewicz in his answers, choosing to contrast his record and positions with the leading Republican, Linda McMahon.
In his answer to the first question on extending the Bush tax cuts, Murphy said McMahon would save $7 million if the tax cuts on the richest taxpayers were extended, instead of saving only the cuts for couples with incomes of less than $250,000.
“When you go home tonight you’re going to see a TV commercial from Linda McMahon that talks about her tax plan,” Murphy said. “It’s a totally false ad. It hides the fact her own plan would give her a $7 million tax cut.”
Bysiewicz used the question to again take Murphy to task for the hedge fund vote.
Murphy said he voted three times against keeping the hedge fund loophole, and he questioned Bysiewicz integrity for keeping the inaccurate ad on the air.
“This is a new low in Connecticut politics,” he said.
For all his outrage, Murphy left no doubt he believes he has benefited from the episode.
“I think in the end this ad has done more damage to Susan Bysiewicz,” he said.
Bysiewicz did not retreat.
“This Democratic primary is about who can best stand up for middle-class families. And there was an opportunity, Chris, in May of 2006 for you to stand with middle class families,” she said in a mistaken reference to vote in May of 2008. “And you chose to stand with Wall Street.”
On other issues, the two Democrats were largely in agreement.
Each opposed defense cuts that would reach across the Thames River to the U.S. Navy’s submarine base or the Electric Boat shipyard, where subs are built.
They also favored seeing U.S. troops leave Afghanistan faster than the current timetable of President Obama and NATO, who say the last U.S. combat troops will leave by the end of 2014, though training troopers would remain.
“We brought Osama bin Laden to justice,” Bysiewicz said. “It’s time to move on.”
Both kept their distance from the fundraising scandal that damaged the congressional campaign of state House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, and neither was eager to talk specifics about how to keep Social Security and Medicare solvent.
Murphy did offer one specific: He would make more income subject to the Social Security payroll tax, which is currently capped at $106,800.
The debate was sponsored by News8 and The Day of New London. The same news organizations tried to hold a debate for the GOP candidates. Chris Shays accepted, but McMahon refused.