The rancor seen in the advertising for Connecticut's close U.S. Senate race spilled over Sunday into the first debate of the campaign, with Republican Linda McMahon and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy accusing one another of deceit and avoiding the issues that matter to voters.
McMahon, the 64-year-old former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, now the WWE, took the step of publicly chastising the 39-year-old Murphy, repeatedly saying "shame on you" for questioning the originality of the jobs plan she touts on the campaign trail.
Murphy accused her of lifting entire paragraphs and sentences from right-wing Republican groups in Washington, which he said is the wrong policy for Connecticut.
McMahon said her plan was fully cited and she believed Murphy was wrongly accusing her of plagiarism to score political points in the tight race.
"You thought this campaign was going to be a coronation," she told Murphy, pointing out how he's a Democrat in a Democratic-leaning state. "And now you're in a serious race against a serious woman and you are desperate."
Murphy pointed out that McMahon's plan allows the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to continue, which he argues could harm the middle class due to the revenue loss. He criticized McMahon for not proposing specific cuts to cover the tax-cut extension or ways to rein in the cost of Social Security and Medicare.
"Linda McMahon doesn't want this campaign to be about issues, because if it is, she loses," he said. "If It's on the differences between the two of us on tax policy, or support for education or women's health care, she can't win because her economic plan is rooted in the Republican national talking points. My economic plan is rooted in the people of this state."
The race is a dead heat, a recent Quinnipiac University Poll shows. Both candidates are seeking to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.
The race has taken on a negative tone, with both candidates, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV attack ads in recent weeks. McMahon has focused much of her criticism on Murphy's past history of missing numerous congressional hearings as the 5th District congressman, as well as being sued for late mortgage and rent payments. She has also alleged he got a special deal when he received a home equity loan, a charge both the bank and Murphy deny.
"You need to be honest about your special interest loan," McMahon told Murphy during the debate. "You need to be honest about your attendance in Washington."
Murphy, meanwhile, has accused McMahon of wanting to privatize Medicare and end Social Security after 10 years in order to review the program, both charges she denies. He has also accused her of not being a strong supporter of women's rights, such as the right to have an abortion. McMahon reiterated Sunday that she does support abortion rights, but that she believed a proposed amendment to the federal health care reform overhaul that required all employers to cover the cost of contraception was overreaching.
McMahon also stated Sunday that she supports gay marriage, which is legal in Connecticut, and would vote to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union between a man and woman for federal purposes. It marked a change in position for McMahon, the Republicans' 2010 Senate candidate, whose support for repealing DOMA had been questioned by gay rights activists in the past.
"I have changed my position on DOMA because with now gay marriage approved in the state of Connecticut, I don't think it's fair," McMahon told reporters after the debate, adding how those married gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples for federal benefits. McMahon said her opinion on DOMA has been evolving.
Murphy seized on McMahon's comments, saying he was only candidate who has consistently supported gay rights.
"The fact that she gave a 10-second answer to a question about civil rights for Connecticut residents displays how weak her commitment is to standing up to the Republican right-wing," he said, adding how he'll fight against "the social right in Washington that's trying to strip away women's health care rights and rights for people based on their sexual orientation."