The candidates in the open-seat Connecticut Senate race, Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Republican former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, met tonight for a very lively debate, with each of them maintaining a constant theme throughout: The other candidate absolutely cannot be trusted to look out for the state and the nation’s economy.
Overall, the debate was probably a win for Blumenthal — he entered the debate ahead in the polls, with a lead of 50.2%-44.2% in the TPM Poll Average — and no knockout blows against him or gaffes on his part occurred that would seemed likely to topple him from that perch.
Each of the candidates at the debate — which was hosted by the local Fox station and the Hartford Courant — steadily attacked each other on similar themes. Blumenthal blasted McMahon as a greedy corporate executive who always put profits ahead of people, and touting his own long experience as a public servant. “I have stood up for the people of Connecticut over 20 years, fighting for them tenaciously, and fighting for their interest, putting them first.”
McMahon, meanwhile, made the case was that Blumenthal had spent his whole adult life in government work, and that he did not have any knowledge of the private sector that would contribute to repairing the country. “This election is about very clear choices and very different policies. On the one hand you have my opponent who has been in government his whole life. And his position is about growing government, I’m about growing the economy.”
Meet Your Opponent’s Attack Ad
Early in the debate, the moderators played each of the candidates’ recent attack ads against each other, giving the target of the ad the opportunity to respond. First off was Blumenthal’s ad against McMahon, which attacked her for her recent comments that the local media interpreted as meaning she would consider cutting the minimum wage.
“The first thing, let me say categorically that is wrong, and false, and categorically incorrect, that I would consider reducing the minimum wage. That is a lie, and you know it, it is in your ad,” McMahon said to Blumenthal. Then she said something very interesting: “Mr. Blumenthal and I actually share the same thought as to the minimum wage, that we should consider raising it.”
(Quickie fact check: That interpretation seems like quite a stretch when looking at McMahon’s original comments. It’s possible that she did not intend to be open to lowering the minimum wage, but she certainly expressed skepticism about any increases soon: “What I think we have to look at whenever we are talking about minimum wage increases is where is our economy at this particular point and how is that going to impact the businesses that are going to have to pay those wages, and I think that is part of what I bring to the table is understanding the consequences that affect the business by putting mandatory increases in place.”)
Next up was McMahon’s new ad premiering today, which hammered Blumenthal for his past false statements about having served in Vietnam.
“There is nothing new in this ad, and there’s nothing new about the McMahon attack on me,” Blumenthal responded. “She’s spending millions of dollars on me and everyone knows it, because they’ve been seeing it in their mailboxes. As I’ve said before, I’m proud of my military services, and on a few occasions out of hundreds when I described it, I did so inaccurately…and I want to say I am sorry, and sorry to our veterans of Vietnam. But I am going to continue fighting for our veterans, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”
Interestingly, the hubbub over Blumenthal’s military service was never referred to again during the rest of the debate — but McMahon’s statements about the minimum wage came up again repeatedly, sometimes at the prompting of a moderator, but usually instigated by Blumenthal.
“I would never advocate lowering or reducing the minimum wage,” McMahon said at one point. “I said we need to take a look at whether or not we need to increase the minimum wage. Congress takes a look at this all the time…I think we need to look at it and make sure it’s in the right economic frame, but I never said we need to reduce it.”
Blumenthal responded shortly afterward: “The record will show that when my opponent was asked, would she cut the minimum wage, she said she would have to look at it. The record will show that is incontrovertibly true. And I would have never said that.”
WWE…And The Empire State Building
Blumenthal also sought to undermine McMahon’s frequent reference to her business acumen, and the hundreds of people she has employed in Connecticut, such as when she said her old company would be back to full strength next year after some decline with the rest of the economy. “It’s good to know that WWE is growing after she left the company,” Blumenthal said.
McMahon shot back by sarcastically, offering Blumenthal a “deal,” which was in turn in keeping with the populist mood of this whole election season: “I won’t let you count my money, and then I won’t talk about the fact that your family owns the Empire State Building.”
Stimulus And Bailouts
Interestingly, Blumenthal broke with his party on some key issues. He said that he had opposed the TARP bailout of Wall Street — and repeatedly noted that McMahon supported it — and also said that economic stimulus was not properly formulated, on the grounds that it was “too big, and did not provide enough accountability.”
McMahon shot back. “I think you know at the time Congress voted on the bailouts, I would have done it holding my nose. Because I believe when the Secretary of the Treasury [Henry Paulson] comes out and says we’re on the verge of economic collapse and we need to do something, I would have supported that,” said McMahon — but also adding that she would have opposed the Obama administration’s bailout of the auto companies. “And I think Mr. Blumenthal has made a great case for the fact that government cannot spend our money and keep track of it very well.”
Made In America
Blumenthal later invoked an economic populist card, by talking about his proposal that the federal government should buy products made in America, and that he himself has pursued a made-in-Connecticut policy for his own office. So, he asked McMahon — why does WWE merchandise get made in other countries like China, India and others?
“WWE like many other companies has sourced product outside the United States, because we do not have the kind of policies here that are conducive to manufacturing,” said McMahon, referring to corporate income taxes that she said are too high. “I am all for making products here in America,” she added — and then immediately acknowledged that WWE toys, manufactured through Mattel, are not made in America. “That’s not our job, we license it out.”
Blumenthal responded: “Cutting through all of what you just heard, the bottom line was benefitting more profits by sending those jobs in effect overseas, in effect, by having the products made there. As the CEO of WWE, Linda McMahon has to be held accountable for those choices that deprived American workers of jobs that were lost by having those products made over there.”
“Well I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve created over 600 jobs here in Connecticut,” McMahon responded, “and in the past 28 years have created an average of 20 jobs per year. And I think that’s a good record to hold up. How many jobs have you created over here?”
WWE Wrestlers/Independent Contractors
During a discussion of the new health care reform law, Blumenthal again attacked McMahon. “And by the way, there is a certain irony in my opponent talking about health care reform, because she denies health insurance to the wrestlers,” said Blumenthal, saying that WWE was under investigation for classifying the wrestlers as independent contractors rather than employees, and thus allegedly skirting labor regulations and taxes.
“You talked about the WWE contractors who don’t’ have health coverage,” said McMahon. “Indeed they do, and all 600 employees at WWE have full benefits and coverage, and all independent coverage for any accidents or injuries they may receive in the ring, fully covered.
She then added a stiff accusation against Blumenthal — essentially implying corruption by his office: “In the 28 years WWE has been in Connecticut, it has never been investigated or fined in relation to its contractors. And the only time it got investigated was just as this campaign got going.”
Blumenthal then defended his reputation. “As you well know, my jurisdiction is exclusively civil. The allegations against WWE seem to be criminal in nature. So it’s no coincidence that my investigation has not covered them. I have no investigation, have not done an investigation, because allegations about independent contractors are investigated by the Department of Labor and the Department of Revenue Services. And I’d have no knowledge of that investigation. It’s being conducted by the state.”
At this point, some laughter could be heard from the normally silent audience — though who exactly was laughing, and why they were laughing, was unclear. McMahon was asked for comment. “I have no comment,” she responded quickly and with some humor in her voice, causing the laughter to continue.
Even The Closing Arguments Were Rough
McMahon went first. She strongly contrasted Blumenthal’s background with her own. “He is a lifelong politician, and he has spent his adult life on the government payroll. I am a mother and grandmother and a wife, and I am a businesswoman. A businessman who has created jobs, and juggled a career and family, and none of those jobs is easy. And I think we need someone to go to Washington who understands that.”
Blumenthal got in the last word, and again hammered McMahon — and in an environment where she had no time to respond, too. First, he spoke of individuals in the audience who he had helped over the years. “I am proud of my record in public service. I am proud that I have helped people build their futures. My opponent has built her fortune, she has put profit ahead of people. Even now she refuses to acknowledge that steroids can cause long term health consequences.”