Rocky Hill — Barbed exchanges and mutual scoldings colored the first one-on-one debate Sunday between U.S. Senate candidates Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy.
Their one-hour debate, broadcast on live television during WFSB-TV's "Face the State" program, touched on a range of topics from the candidates' jobs plans and personal finances to their views on tax policies and gay marriage.
Murphy, the Democrat in the race, accused McMahon of lobbing nonstop personal attacks to distract voters from her unpopular stances on issues.
Connecticut's current 5th Congressional District representative, Murphy has faced weeks of unflattering revelations in the press about his past troubles paying mortgage, rent and other bills. McMahon's campaign has incorporated these disclosures into attack ads, including an allegation that he received preferential loan treatment from a bank that received money in the 2008 bank bailout.
"Linda McMahon doesn't want this campaign to be about issues, because if it is, she loses," Murphy said.
But McMahon, the Republican nominee, responded that his personal issues do matter because voters care about a candidate's honesty and trustworthiness.
"An occasional financial slip is really not what we're talking about here," McMahon said. "You need to be honest about your special interest loan, you need to be honest about your independence in Washington — those are issues that are important to folks in Connecticut because they want to know who they trust."
Murphy went on to accuse McMahon of having borrowed word-for-word parts of her six-point jobs growth and economic plan — the centerpiece of her campaign — from "right-wing Republican [websites] in Washington."
McMahon's plan calls for regulation rollbacks and tax cuts for individuals and businesses, along with annual 1 percent reductions in non-defense spending and ending corporate tax code loopholes.
Murphy called it "a plan that essentially parrots a bunch of talking points that haven't worked for this country."
The former WWE executive turned her head away from the camera to answer Murphy's charges head on. She said her plan incorporates ideas from the "brightest and the best" and cites its sources.
"Congressman Murphy, shame on you," McMahon said. "You have just accused me of plagiarizing my plan. You know very well that my plan is my own … my plan cites every word."
She then alluded to their neck-and-neck standing in opinion polls. The winner on Nov. 6 will succeed U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is retiring.
"You thought this campaign was going to be a coronation," McMahon declared. "Now you're in a serious race with a serious woman, and you are desperate."
McMahon described her plan and its policy prescriptions as more effective than anything Murphy has proposed.
"It's strictly about the middle class because that's where we need help," she said.
But Murphy, who would end the Bush-era tax cuts for high earners that McMahon seeks to extend, said her plan is so heavy with tax cuts it would herald a budget deficit crisis.
He accused her of "fealty to a supply-side trickle-down economics that just hasn't worked."
"This is why we're in the problem we are today because candidates like Linda McMahon have just promised everybody in the world that we're going to have massive tax cuts and we're only going to cut spending a little bit," Murphy said.
The candidates also discussed the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Murphy favors keeping the law, commonly known as Obamacare, while McMahon agrees with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the need to "repeal and replace" it.
The biggest gaffe during the debate came when McMahon answered a question concerning homosexual marriage by responding "I absolutely support America's law for same-sex marriage."
The problem, which Murphy pointed out, is that the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act specifically recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman.
Six states including Connecticut allow full same-sex marriage.
"America doesn't have a law protecting same-sex marriage, in fact it has the exact opposite," Murphy said. "The fact that Linda McMahon only spent 20 seconds answering that question tells you that she's not going to stand up to her party in Washington when it comes to these issues that right now are being dominated by the social right in Washington."
McMahon defended herself as an independent thinker who "will absolutely differ from my party." She added that like Murphy, she too would have voted to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that governed homosexuals in the military.
Speaking after the debate, McMahon indicated that she had meant to say she wouldn't vote for measures that would end same-sex marriage in Connecticut. "I'm a supporter of gay marriage," she said.
McMahon also told reporters she has changed her earlier position on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and is now willing to repeal it.
Sunday's debate was the first of four scheduled between the two candidates. The next one is Oct. 11 at the University of Connecticut.