Rocky Hill — Republican Dan Carter stepped from the shadows Sunday into the bright lights of WFSB’s television studio. For an hour, he occupied a rare patch of level ground in his steeply uphill race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal: They stood side by side at identical lecterns in their only scheduled debate.
Carter distanced himself from Donald J. Trump, saying he has confidence in the integrity of an election that Trump says is rigged. And he disagreed with Senate Republican leaders on their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and their refusal to hold a confirmation hearing on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
But the tight format of the live debate and the issues raised by the moderators produced a stolid hour of give-and-take, despite Carter’s repeated, if polite, suggestions that positions staked out by Blumenthal and other incumbents are less about accomplishment in Washington than generating talking points for fundraising and campaigns back home.
“I know my opponent has talked about the fact he supported the ‘Bring Jobs Home’ bill,” Carter said in response to a question about the state’s struggling economy. “Well, it was a bill that was a message bill. It was empty. It didn’t do anything to bring jobs home.”
Senate Republicans blocked the bill in July 2014 as the mid-term congressional campaigns were heating up. The bill would have granted a 20 percent tax credit for relocating business units back to the U.S. and ended tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas, part of the what Democrats’ called their “Fair Shot” campaign on the economy.
Carter called for a sharp reduction in U.S. corporate tax rates, saying that corporate taxes produce relatively little for the treasury while encouraging corporations to seek overseas tax havens.
Blumenthal said his contribution to the state economy was supporting federal spending on transportation infrastructure and a strong U.S. defense that means thousands of jobs at Electric Boat, Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney, the manufacturers of nuclear submarines, helicopters and military jet engines.
“And I am going to continue the fight for tax credits to bring jobs home and stop the rewards and special breaks for companies that send jobs overseas. That is the idea of the Bring Jobs Home Act,” Blumenthal said.
No news is good news for Blumenthal in the contest against the under-funded and little-known Carter. Blumenthal completed the live debate without gifting Carter a moment capable of changing the dynamic of a sleepy campaign waged on terms set by an incumbent buoyed by high name recognition, high approval and a 30-1 fundraising advantage.
Six years ago, a faltering answer by Blumenthal on job creation quickly became a campaign ad by Linda McMahon, the wealthy WWE co-founder who spent a record $50 million on a largely self-funded campaign for an open seat, then dropped another $50 million in 2014 in the race for another open seat against Chris Murphy.
Even had Blumenthal offered a gaffe or a stumble Sunday, Carter would be hard-pressed to capitalize by amplifying the moment in a television ad. Carter recently reported having only $35,014 in available cash to $4.7 million for Blumenthal, a mismatch of 135-1.
Carter, 49, is a state representative from Bethel elected in 2010, the same year Blumenthal, 70, won the race to succeed Chris Dodd in the U.S. Senate, capitalizing on 20 years as a media-savvy attorney general that made him one of Connecticut’s best-known politicians.
When Blumenthal denounced the role of special interest money in politics Sunday, Carter said Blumenthal’s campaign was the recipient of $1.5 million of such funds. Political action committees have contributed $1.6 million of the $7 million raised by Blumenthal through Sept. 30. Carter’s total fundraising was $226,969, including $6,250 from PACs.
Carter accused Blumenthal of protecting unions by opposing a Veterans Administration Accountability bill by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Blumenthal replied that the bill was unconstitutional, a reference to provisions that would permit the firing of VA employees without hearings.
A question about Obamacare yielded little about how Blumenthal and Carter would approach the issue of how to maintain and expand health coverage in the U.S.
“We know it’s collapsing. We know it doesn’t work, so let’s move forward,” Carter said.
To where exactly, he didn’t say.
As Hillary Clinton did in her debates with Trump, Blumenthal acknowledged that Congress must amend the Affordable Care Act, skimping on the details. Instead, Blumenthal stressed the importance of preserving Obamacare’s more popular provisions: protections for people with pre-existing conditions and the ability of parents to keep children on family plans until age 26.
Blumenthal would permit Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a power now enjoyed by the Veterans Administration.
The moderators asked no questions on Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, tensions with Russia and China or any other foreign policy issue, a frustration for Carter, who said later he was was eager to engage Blumenthal on what he says are many flaws in the Iran deal.
As was the case in the presidential debates, the subject of climate change and federal clean air standards for power plants didn’t come up, even though Democrats and Republicans sharply disagree on the issue. The GOP platform would loosen environmental rules to encourage the burning of more coal.
Some of the questions Sunday involved topics unlikely to come up in Congress, including term limits and the legalization of recreational marijuana. Blumenthal sided with groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters in opposing term limits, while Carter favored them. Neither embraced the legalization of recreational pot.
Blumenthal opposed restrictions on a women’s right to an abortion, including parental notification laws adopted by some states, but not Connecticut. Carter also described himself as in support of reproductive rights.
Carter stood alone among state legislators who represent Newtown, the scene of the horrific Sandy Hook School shooting, in voting against the legislative response to the tragedy: a law banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines, the AR-15 and other military-style weapons and broadening background checks for gun purchases.
More recently, Carter voted against a law that would requires the recipients of temporary restraining orders in cases where domestic violence is alleged to surrender their weapons. Blumenthal supports such laws.
On Sunday, Carter said he supported universal background checks.
Both candidates were non-committal when asked about a Quixotic proposal by U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, for a multi-billion-dollar highway tunnel that would take traffic beneath Hartford and the Connecticut River.
And both criticized Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
A series of lighting round questions at the debate’s conclusion addressed their views on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, role models, their favorite U.S. senator, their favorite leisure activity, their views on Indian mascots, early voting and whether Trump was a racist.
Blumenthal declined to give the governor a grade or say if he should seek a third term. His favorite senator was Abraham Ribicoff. He thinks the Washington Redskins and other teams would be well-advised to drop their Indian names. He is open to the idea that Trump is racist.
Carter smiled and said he hopes the governor seeks a third term in the belief a Republican would win. His favorite senator was Joseph Lieberman. Indian names are OK. And he doesn’t think Trump is a racist.
In 2010, Blumenthal debated McMahon three times and agreed to a fourth, which she declined. This year, Blumenthal appears disinclined to provide Carter with the opportunity to raise his profile.
“He’s turned down multiple chances to debate,” Carter said. “I would have loved to have seen a couple of debates, at least maybe three.”
Carter’s campaign said The Day of New London, Hearst Newspapers and community and political groups, including the Greater Hartford Young Democrats, all have tried without luck to entice Blumenthal to forums with Carter.
Blumenthal called Sunday’s debate “a welcome opportunity to talk to the people of Connecticut.”
So, why not accept other opportunities”
“Well, this was a good debate,” he said.
Why not others?
“Well, we have others that are under consideration,” Blumenthal said. “We’ll see if the time permits.”