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In first Connecticut Senate debate, Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal spar over Vietnam, minimum wage

By Felicia Sonmez

Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) took aim at each other's records Monday night in the first debate of the Connecticut Senate race, hours after McMahon's camp released a scathing new TV ad slamming Blumenthal for his repeated misstatements of his military record.

In the hour-long debate, hosted by Fox News Channel's Bret Baier, Blumenthal said that there was "nothing new" in the ad, which asks of Blumenthal, "If he lied about Vietnam, what else is he lying about?"

"As I've said before, I'm proud of my military service," Blumenthal said, adding that he had described his service inaccurately "on a few occasions out of hundreds." He apologized for the misstatements, which he said were "not intentional, but that is no excuse."

McMahon, meanwhile, defended herself against a hard-hitting TV ad launched by Blumenthal's camp last week slamming her for laying off workers at WWE and for not ruling out a reduction in the federal minimum wage.

On the minimum wage, McMahon said that she "never said we should reduce it, so I want to take that off the table." Blumenthal hit back that McMahon said she would have at least considered a reduction, whereas he "would have said 'absolutely not.'"

While both candidates struck a relatively civil tone during the debate, the blows exchanged spoke to the fact that the race has been tightening in recent months, as McMahon has spent more than $20 million from her personal fortune on the race. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted in late September showed Blumenthal taking 49 percent to McMahon's 46 percent among likely voters -- down from Blumenthal's 20-point lead in June.

One of the recurrent issues in the debate was WWE, which McMahon left last year in order to pursue her Senate bid. Democrats have slammed McMahon for some of the more controversial aspects of the business, including allegations of steroid abuse among wrestlers, and have argued that the show promotes violence against women. McMahon dismissed Blumenthal's charge Monday night that WWE "market(s) sex and violence," contending that viewers understand that it's a "soap opera" and that wrestlers are "well cared-for."

On the issue of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, both candidates held to their previous positions. Blumenthal stated that he would have opposed TARP "because it did too much for Wall Street, not enough for Main Street," while McMahon said she would have voted for it "holding my nose," although she would not have supported the "bailouts for GM and for the other car companies."

Asked about the national health care overhaul, from which many Democrats in competitive races have sought to distance themselves, Blumenthal delivered a strong defense of the law.

"This bill recognizes some fundamental facts. No child in America should be denied health care because they are sick," Blumenthal said. "No American family should go bankrupt paying for health care."

McMahon, meanwhile, took aim at the overhaul. "I do think it was a bad policy, and therefore we have a bad product," she said, adding that the law did not bring down the cost of health care and ensure broader coverage as promised and will cut Medicare "by half a trillion dollars."

At several points during the debate, as he has throughout the campaign, Blumenthal turned the focus to McMahon's heavy spending on her bid.

"My campaign might be outspent, but it won't be outworked, and the people of Connecticut want an election, not an auction," Blumenthal said, to which McMahon responded, "I am funding my campaign with money I've earned."

McMahon also shot back with a dig at Blumenthal's wealth, contending that if Blumenthal wouldn't talk about her personal fortune, "I won't talk about the fact that your family owns the Empire State Building." Blumenthal's wife, Cynthia, is the daughter of real estate mogul Peter Malkin, whose holdings include the landmark New York City building.

As the debate wrapped up, McMahon and Blumenthal were largely in agreement when asked to give one-word answers to questions in a "lighting round." Both chose the Yankees over the Red Sox, both chose thin crust pizza over thick crust, and both gave similar answers when asked about Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is vacating the seat.

"Not running," Blumenthal said when asked for a one-word response to Dodd's name.

McMahon's answer: "Retired."

By Felicia Sonmez  | October 4, 2010; 9:15 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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