Hartford — The battle for the potentially decisive women’s vote in the U.S. Senate race intensified Tuesday as three female senators rallied for Democrat Chris Murphy, while Republican Linda McMahon countered with ads accusing Murphy of hypocrisy on pay equity and contraception.

Under a gray sky that eventually produced a light rain, Murphy stood in Bushnell Park with U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and other women in an effort to neutralize gains McMahon has made among women since her first race in 2010.

women's rally

Chris Murphy, flanked by Sen. Barbara Mikulski and his wife, Cathy Holahan, enjoys praise by Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

“As you know in this election, a lot is about the gender gap,” said Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congress. “But we the women of the Senate say it’s not about the gender gap. We have a gender gap, because the Republicans have an agenda gap.”

The rally was intended as a show of unity for Murphy. In addition to the three senators, he was supported on stage by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of New Haven and a national leader of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards. Off-stage stood the state’s first lady, Cathy Malloy, and Susan Bysiewicz, whom Murphy defeated in the Democratic primary.

“This is a powerhouse group, my friends,” DeLauro said.

One after another, the speakers praised the three-term congressman as taking strong, unambiguous stands on abortion rights, access to women’s health and pay equity.

“He has a record that is reliable and undeniable,” Mikulski said.

But it wasn’t just the rain that damped Murphy’s day. The McMahon campaign was ready with new ads, including one that claimed Murphy’s advocacy of pay equity does not extend to his own congressional staff: Women are paid half what men make.

A check by The Mirror of congressional pay records found Murphy employed eight women as full-time employees in the last quarter of 2011 at an average pay of $48,124. His six male full-time employees, who included the top-ranking staff, made an average of $80,800.

“In six years, he never hired a woman to a leadership position in his office,” said Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager.

Murphy said after the rally he could not say if there was a pay disparity on his staff, but his press spokesman said later the candidate is true to his ideals.

“In Chris’s office, employees receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender,” said Ben Marter, his campaign communication director. “This latest, widely inaccurate political attack comes from a Republican candidate who opposes the fair pay legislation Chris fought for.”

Murphy’s highest-paid campaign staffer is a woman, Kathryn Brockman, who is his finance director, he said.

Marter said McMahon should review her own performance on women’s employment issues, especially the women subjected to degrading treatment in shows by the company she co-founded, World Wrestling Entertainment.

“Since McMahon wants to talk about treatment of female employees, she may want to think about the women who worked for her, who were forced to strip naked, bark like dogs and subjected to simulated rape for the amusement of the their male viewers,” Marter said.

He was referring to WWE scripted episodes, incluidng one featuring her husband, Vince McMahon. who told a woman to strip, get down on all fours in the ring and bark like a dog. The episode is one of several recently scrubbed from You Tube by the WWE.

The ads also mentioned an emergency contraception bill that died in a committee co-chaired by Murphy when he was a state senator. Similar to a bill that later became law, it would have required all hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, regardless of a hospital’s religious affiliation.

At the time, he was early in his first campaign for Congress.

“Congressman Murphy, when push came to shove, chose his political career over what was best for rape victims,” Bliss said.

McMahon has had her own difficulty with the same issue, first telling the Hartford Courant’s editorial board that she would oppose forcing Catholic hospitals to provide the so-called day-after pill to rape victims.

“I don’t think that the government should overreach. I mean, it’s the separation of church and state, in my opinion,” McMahon told the Courant. “I think that a religious institution has the right to decide what its policies would be in that case.”

She eventually backpedaled.

Murphy had a six-percentage point lead over McMahon among women in the Oct. 4 Quinnipiac University polls, about half the lead enjoyed by Democrat Richard Blumenthal over McMahon in 2010. Quinnipiac is releasing a new poll Wednesday.

“You aren’t pro-choice just because you know how to say the words pro-choice, right?” Murphy told the crowd. “You’re pro-choice because you stand up for the issues that back up women across the state.”

Murphy alluded to the programing of World Wrestling Entertainment, which used to portray women in demeaning storylines and poses, and talked about values at stake in the race.

“I want to be able to tell my two sons that if you spend your life making money off of demeaning women, off of exploiting domestic violence, that you don’t get rewarded with a seat in the U.S. Senate,” Murphy said.

Landrieu, who campaigned in Connecticut for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in 2006, when he lost the Democratic nomination and won as an independent, said Blumenthal lobbied her and the other senators to visit Connecticut for Murphy. Blumenthal also was on stage Tuesday.

When Lieberman, who remains a member of the Senate caucus but has no role in the Connecticut Democratic Party, was mentioned by Landrieu and Mikulski, there was a smattering of boos.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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