Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy put a final gloss on Connecticut’s rawest, most expensive campaign Monday, making a last tour of the state before voters go to polls Tuesday to choose a new U.S. senator for the second time since 2010.
Murphy, 39, the three-term Democratic congressman whose campaign once seemed in free fall, appeared energized by a string of favorable polls and the company of a sports legend, Jim Calhoun, at a get-out-the-vote rally in Hartford.
Calhoun, the recently retired UConn basketball coach, stood with Murphy at Union Station in Hartford for a rally kicked off by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who shouted to the crowd, “We’re going to bring this baby home.”
McMahon, 64, a Republican who has invested nearly $100 million into two successive Senate races, reinforced themes of the past year, networking one last time with women in Glastonbury and small-business owners in Southington.
“It is all about now the ground game,” McMahon said. “It is getting people to the polls tomorrow.”
“When you can see the finish line, your energy amps up,” Murphy said.
On that much, at least, Murphy and McMahon can agree after a season of attacking each other’s character, motives and abilities.
Both candidates began their last day of campaigning before dawn at the gates of defense contractors: McMahon at Electric Boat in Groton, Murphy at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford.
Calhoun was the day’s only surprise.
Leaning on a cane after surgery for a broken hip, Calhoun noted he also was a cancer survivor. He told the crowd he was supporting Murphy and President Obama out of concerns for health care and women’s rights.
“Every single person in this country needs to be insured,” Calhoun said.
Murphy voted for the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. McMahon pledges to vote for its repeal.
Calhoun also said he is concerned about protecting the rights of women, including his female relatives.
“Four sisters, five female grandchildren, two great sisters-in-law: Someone’s trying to tell them what to do with their bodies. That’s why we’re here,” Calhoun said.
McMahon has distanced herself from a national Republican Party that supports the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
She supports Roe, though she would not make abortion a litmus test for evaluating Supreme Court nominees, as Murphy has promised.
McMahon is trying to become the first woman elected to the Senate from Connecticut and the first Republican to win a Senate race here since 1982, when Lowell P. Weicker Jr. was re-elected to his third and final term.
Shrugging off public polling that shows Murphy with at least a six-percentage point lead, McMahon said the race is a dead heat by her internal polls, with an organization of paid workers and volunteers poised to propel her to victory.
Her campaign has tried to appeal beyond the base of 430,439 Republican voters, who comprise only 21 percent of the electorate, by aggressively focusing on the 41 percent of voters who are unaffiliated, especially women and business owners.
Catherine Marx of Hebron, the former vice chairwoman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said McMahon’s campaign is a test of whether the GOP can broaden its appeal, especially to women.
The previous night, McMahon attended her 200th “conversation with Linda,” a series of meetings with women, a recognition of a gender gap that shows female voters favoring Democrats.
Marx hosted a women’s breakfast for McMahon in Glastonbury, where attendees included unaffiliated and Democratic voters, including Kate Sirignano of Southbury, a Democrat who volunteered on earlier Murphy campaigns.
To blunt an overwhelmingly Democratic vote in the cities, McMahon aired a television commercial directed at Obama voters and dispatched canvassers to urban neighborhoods urging a vote for the president and McMahon.
“A Republican cannot win, even if you get every Republican vote,” McMahon said. “We need Democrats. We need independents.”
Her final commercial flashed a glimpse of the late John F. Kennedy. Her rationale was that it marked the passage of the time, he was senator the last time “a jobs creator” represented Connecticut in the Senate.
Democrats, including Ted Kennedy Jr., say they saw it as a nearly subliminal effort to associate herself with a Democratic icon.
McMahon said she was not distancing herself from the GOP presidential nominee.
“I am absolutely a strong supporter of Mitt Romney,” she said. “I endorsed him early on. I contributed to his campaign.”
Earlier in the day, Murphy stopped in Middletown to talk to diners at the Ford News Diner and The Emporium on Main Street. He went from table to table, urging diners to vote.
“I’m a liberal Democrat and I like his stance,” said Nancy D’Oench, of Portland.
Others simply liked the idea that the campaign was nearing an end.
“I am looking forward to tomorrow when the ads end. It’s turned me off,” said Barbara Weiss of Cromwell. “You almost don’t know what anybody stands for because there have been so many distortions.”
Karen Balavender of Durham agreed.
“It has been tough knowing what to believe,” Balavender said. “The ads have been overwhelmingly negative. It’s been hard to know what’s the truth and difficult to know what to do.”