Linda McMahon campaigned with Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend, holding up the two moderate Republican senators as her role models for their willingness to defy a conservative GOP leadership.
Does that mean McMahon would have joined them supporting the Lilly Ledbetter pay-equity law? Or stood with them in opposing a bill to define a fetus as an unborn child? Would she have confirmed Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court?
McMahon wouldn’t say in an interview, and her campaign declined a request by The Mirror to say how she would have voted on a key issues index published in the 2012 and 2010 editions of “The Almanac of American Politics.”
As she approaches the final 40 days of her second run for U.S. Senate in two years, the Republican nominee remains elusive on specific legislation that would allow voters to judge her by two yardsticks:
How often would she have bucked the Republican leadership, an important question for a GOP candidate running in New England?
And, how differently would she have voted than her Democratic opponent, three-term Rep. Chris Murphy?
“I will be an independent thinker,” McMahon said, avoiding specifics. “I won’t always vote with my party.”
The McMahon campaign limits access to its candidate, generally keeping interviews to 10 minutes, too brief to go in depth. And her only press conference was to unveil a six-point jobs plan in March.
She is the only major Senate candidate to decline a one-hour live interview on WNPR’s “Where We Vote” series during the primary and general election campaigns. Murphy appeared on the show before the primary and is scheduled to be interviewed again Oct. 3.
In 2010, McMahon was available for longer interviews until the campaign’s final weeks, including an hour on WNPR.
Murphy’s campaign also has tightened media access in recent weeks, since disclosures of his missed rent and mortgage payments. Neither campaign regularly releases a schedule of campaign appearances, though Murphy is scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday.
Both candidates have agreed to four debates, beginning Sunday, Oct. 7, on WFSB’s “Face the State.”
On Monday, Sept. 17, The Mirror asked McMahon’s campaign for her position on the Almanac’s index of key votes for the 110th Congress and 111th Congress, covering Murphy’s first two terms. He is on record for all 24 votes.
In an email Friday night, the campaign declined.
“With recent news that the state unemployment rate now stands at 9 percent, Linda McMahon is completely focused on providing solutions to today’s economic problems, rather than reliving yesterday’s issues,” said Todd Abrajano, her communication director.
Abrajano called an effort to compare McMahon’s positions with Murphy’s record on votes going back six years “a senseless exercise that will not move this country forward and does nothing to solve the economic mess we’re in today.”
Her campaign’s refusal to engage in an examination of McMahon’s positions on a broad range of issues came at the end of a week dominated by tit-for-tat exchanges over McMahon’s long-ago bankruptcy, Murphy’s missed mortgage payments and both candidates’ tardiness in making property tax payments.
Today, the McMahon campaign resumed its campaign to focus attention on whether Murphy was qualified for a $43,000 home equity loan that he received from Webster Financial. The campaign demanded that Murphy release his loan application and related documents to prove no favoritism.
“Chris Murphy is exactly the type of corrupt career politician that voters are sick of: someone who uses his position of power to personally benefit himself,” said McMahon’s campaign manager, Corry Bliss. “If Congressman Murphy thinks he can sweep his scandalous ethical problems under the rug, he’s sadly mistaken.”
Murphy’s campaign spokesman, Eli Zupnick, responded in kind after McMahon announced last week she would pay individual creditors from her 1976 bankruptcy, an effort to neutralize an issue used by Murphy.
“Shouldn’t she have paid back the people she owed money to before going out and purchasing a power boat she named the ‘Sexy Bitch,’ a Vegas condo, a Boca condo, two Bentleys and an Aston Martin, three motorcycles, a $7 million Greenwich mansion, and much, much more with her hundreds of millions of dollars?” Zupnick asked.
Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the Republican who held the Senate seat for 18 years until losing to Joseph I. Lieberman in 1988, calls the campaign waged by McMahon and Murphy “the worst ever seen.”
“To sit there and listen to nothing but garbage, I just think it’s horrendous,” Weicker said. “The question I ask everybody just to make sure I’m not living on another planet: Who has seen one ad that states what the candidate is for? Either one of them?”
M. Jodi Rell, the former Republican governor who has endorsed McMahon and spoke at a rally with Collins and Murkowski, praised McMahon for offering a jobs plan early in the campaign, but she said the recent tenor of the campaign season is frustrating.
“Not just in Connecticut, but everywhere, there is this nastiness to the trading of barbs. Talk about the issues. Talk about what you want to do,” Rell said. “To Linda’s credit, you may not like it, but she’s put out a plan. She says, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I want to present.’ At least talk about those kind of issues, and not who paid what, when and what have you.”
Judith G. Freedman of Westport, a former Republican state senator backing McMahon, said, “I think there’s been too much emphasis on personalities and not nearly enough on issues that are important to the people of the state.”
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, who drew national attention two years ago after he and his GOP opponent kept a pledge to run a strictly issues-based campaign, said the quality of the U.S. Senate campaign is discouraging, but not unexpected.
“It does seem to move voters, that’s the sad part,” said Maynard, a Murphy supporter.
Weicker, who was elected governor as an independent in 1990, has endorsed Murphy, but he said Murphy is making the greater mistake in being drawn into an exchange of negative ads and caustic press releases.
“He has a record,” Weicker said. “She has absolutely nothing.”
Murphy has voted to increase the minimum wage, re-authorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, raise fuel efficiency standards for the auto industry, prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and allow gays to serve openly in the military.
He voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which extends the statute of limitations in pay discrimination cases, and a bill that creates a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. He also is on record voting for President Obama’s $820 billion economic stimulus, and the Bush administration’s $700 million bailout of the financial services industry.
Murphy voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 and households earning less than $250,000.
He opposed allowing guns in national parks or overturning Washington, D.C.’s, local gun restrictions.
All those votes were in the key-issues index on which the McMahon’s campaign declined to give the candidate’s position.
McMahon has staked out positions on some of those issues. In an interview, she said she would have joined the eight Republican senators who voted with 55 Democrats in the lame-duck 2010 session to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
She wouldn’t say if she would have been with the five GOP senators who opposed defining a fetus as an unborn child.
“As I said, I am a pro-choice candidate,” she said.
But on that bill? She had no answer.
She is on record as supporting the Blunt Amendment, which would have given employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage based on their personal beliefs.
On the Ledbetter Act, she said, “I’m not trying to dodge you, I’d like to look at the question again.”
McMahon said she believes she would have voted to confirm President Obama’s choice of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, though not necessarily Elena Kagan. In an interview, she quoted herself on Sotomayor, who was confirmed in 2009.
“I think I was asked relative to Sotomayor, and I said at that particular time I didn’t find any reason not to vote for her,” McMahon said.
The Senate debated the confirmation of Kagan in August 2010, as McMahon was running for Senate the first time, but she couldn’t remember taking a position on Kagan, nor would she express one now.
“Elena? I didn’t give as much though to Elena Kagan,” she said.
In 2010, McMahon said she would not vote to extend the Bush tax cuts, unless they were extended for the richest taxpayers, which was the position of the Senate GOP leadership. McMahon appeared to learn a lesson from taking that position.
It is being used this year in Murphy attack ads.