Connecticut's two Senate candidates went to the mat Monday, squaring off over jobs, the minimum wage, taxes, health care and attack ads.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
grappled with Republican Linda McMahon
, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, in their first debate of the season. The two are running for the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, and the race is considered key to GOP hopes of regaining a majority in the Senate. In a generally civil debate with few surprises, the two took questions from local media, citizens, moderator Bret Baier of Fox News and from each other.
The candidates bristled when the discussion turned to recent attack ads and McMahon's business. Last weekend, Blumenthal ran an ad
accusing WWE of taking tax incentives while cutting 10 percent of its work force. She countered that WWE will add between 100 and 140 jobs next year.
The same ad said McMahon favored cutting the minimum wage, an allegation she repeatedly denied.
"I would never advocate lowering or reducing the minimum wage," she said. "I said we should look at whether we need to increase the minimum wage. We need to always look at it and make sure it's in the right economic frame."
McMahon ran an ad earlier
in the day attacking Blumenthal for misleading statements he'd made about serving in Vietnam, concluding: "If he lied about Vietnam, what else is he lying about?" The New York Times reported
the ad was intended to "personally shake up Mr. Blumenthal."
When asked about his service record -- Blumenthal received draft deferments, then joined the Marine Corps Reserve, avoiding the war -- he expressed remorse.
"I'm proud of my military service," he said. "On a few occasions out of hundreds, I described it inaccurately. I take full credit for it. It was inaccurate."
Here's a look at some of the other issues covered in the debate:
The 2008 bailout and the 2009 stimulus:
McMahon said the stimulus didn't work in creating jobs or getting money to the private sector. She said any money still remaining in the stimulus pot should be used to pay down the federal deficit. On the bailouts, she said, "I would have done it holding my nose. I would not have supported the bailouts for GM for the other car companies." Blumenthal said he would have preferred better accountability for stimulus spending and that he opposed the bailout because it benefited Wall Street instead of Main Street.
Two federal programs they'd cut:
Blumenthal said he'd end tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas and breaks for drug companies. McMahon didn't name specific programs, but said non-discretionary federal spending should be rolled back to 2008 levels.
Ability to work across the aisle:
Blumenthal cited his cooperation with other attorneys general in fighting Big Tobacco and working for Internet safety, and said he would have sided with some Republicans against the bank bailout. McMahon said she'd worked with opposing interests as a CEO, negotiating tough deals on behalf of WWE.
Blumenthal asked McMahon why WWE buys products made in China, Pakistan and other companies. McMahon replied: "We do not have the kinds of policies in place here that are conducive to manufacturing. We can lower our corporate tax rate. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world . . . We have high labor costs, high energy costs. All of these things are what are contributing to driving prices up in our country." Blumenthal shot back: "The bottom line was (it was) benefiting more profits (for WWE) by sending those jobs overseas . . . As the CEO of WWE, Linda McMahon has to be held accountable."
McMahon noted: "I'm very proud of the fact that I've created more than 600 jobs here in Connecticut." Then she asked Blumenthal, "How do you create a job?" Blumenthal replied: "We can and we should create more of them through creative policies. I have stood up for jobs when they've been at stake," noting auto dealers and others he'd helped as attorney general. "I know about how government can help preserve jobs, and I want programs that provide more capital for small businesses," he said. McMahon countered: "Government, government, government. Government does not create jobs. Entrepreneurs create jobs." Said Blumenthal: "I'm not going to be an entrepreneur as a senator. I will do my best to assist entrepreneurs in exactly the way I just described."
Health care reform:
McMahon advocated repealing legislation enacted earlier this year and didn't address whether she supports any part of the health-care reform effort. She said health-care costs would be reduced by tort reform, by allowing insurance policies to be sold across state lines and by allowing small businesses to create pools to buy insurance. Blumenthal said he supports the reform efforts, and would like to see government go further in reining in premiums.
The Tea Party:
McMahon said she welcomed the group's support on issues such as cutting taxes, reducing the size of government and slicing the deficit. "I've also met with the Tea Party, two or three factions of the Tea Party," she said. "We are in lock step on those particular issues." Blumenthal said he welcomed political involvement from the Tea Party. "We all benefit when people from whatever view commit their time and their energy and their passion."
Blumenthal noted his campaign will be outspent by McMahon. "We need those volunteers because I don't have anywhere near the $50 million my opponent has committed to spend. My campaign may be outspent, but it won't be outworked." Replied McMahon: "I'm funding my campaign with money that I've earned . . . I'm not accepting private interests (money) because I want to have an independent voice when I go to Washington. I know the people of Connecticut can't be bought."
The candidates agreed on a few issues: both support the death penalty, the war on terror (though they articulated different ideas about Afghanistan) and, well, both like crispy crust on their pizza.
But give McMahon points for the best one-liner of the evening, responding to Blumenthal's continued pounding about WWE's overseas purchasing, layoffs and an investigation
into the company's employment of its wrestlers.
"I won't let you count my money and I won't talk about the fact that your family owns the Empire State Building," said McMahon. Blumenthal's wife's family's real estate holdings include the famous landmark.