The two major-party candidates for Connecticut's open U.S. Senate seat took aim at each other's recent TV ads in their first face-to-face debate on Monday, with Republican Linda McMahon saying her position on the minimum wage has been misconstrued and Democrat Richard Blumenthal saying the latest criticisms about his military record are nothing new.
The matchup, broadcast on live television, was feisty at times, with McMahon, a former wrestling company executive, accusing the longtime Democratic attorney general of being on the government payroll for all his adult life, not understanding what it takes to create jobs and misrepresenting her stance on minimum wage rate levels.
McMahon said Blumenthal's latest ad makes it sound as though she supports cutting the current rate level – a question she was asked about by reporters last week but didn't directly answer.
]"That's a lie. You know that's a lie. I never said it," McMahon said, calling on Blumenthal to pull the ad.
Following the debate, Blumenthal accused McMahon of playing "somewhat fast and lose with the facts," reiterating how McMahon did not voice support for the current minimum wage rate during her exchange with reporters.
"She said she would have to look at it," Blumenthal said. "I would never say such a thing. My answer would have been, 'No. Absolutely not. We will not cut the minimum wage. People are struggling.'"
Blumenthal took aim at McMahon's company, World Wrestling Entertainment, several times during the hour-long debate. He accused McMahon of accepting $10 million in state tax credits while laying off 10 percent of her company's work force. He said it was another example of McMahon putting profits above people, a common refrain for his campaign.
McMahon acknowledged her company laid off workers in 2009 but said the credits resulted in 52 new jobs in digital media and WWE is hiring again.
"Layoffs are hard, they are really tough to do, but sometimes you have to make those tough decisions to move your company forward," she said, adding how WWE plans to add 140 employees next year.
Blumenthal shot back, saying he was glad to hear WWE was hiring now that McMahon has left the company.
McMahon and Blumenthal are hoping to fill the seat now held by the retiring U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. Several minor-party candidates also are vying for the job, but they weren't invited to participate in Monday's debate, which was sponsored by the Hartford Courant and FoxCT. At least two more debates are planned, including one on Thursday in Norwalk.
Just hours before Monday's debate, McMahon released a TV ad featuring two clips of Blumenthal appearing to suggest he served in Vietnam rather than stateside as a member of the Marine Reserve. McMahon's campaign said it was "new video" that has emerged since Blumenthal first came under fire for several misstatements and the comments were made in 2003 and 2008.
"If he lied about Vietnam, what else is he lying about?" the ad asks.
Shown during Monday's debate a video of the ad, which features him saying he served "in" Vietnam when he actually served stateside with the Marine Reserve, Blumenthal said the accusation was old news.
"There is nothing new in this ad, and there is nothing new about the McMahon attack," he said, adding how, on a few occasions out of hundreds, he described his military service inaccurately.
"I regret it. I take full responsibility for it," he said. "It was not intentional."
Blumenthal, who said he was sorry for his past misstatements, said he was owning up to his mistakes while McMahon has not owned up to hers.
Later in the debate, he questioned McMahon as to why her company's licensed toys are manufactured overseas, accusing her of caring more about the bottom line and profits than giving work to U.S. manufacturers. McMahon said the WWE has a licensing agreement with toy maker Mattel, which decides where the toys are made.
She said the U.S. needs to improve its business climate to make it more friendly for manufacturing, saying the country has high labor and energy costs.
The two also sparred over the WWE's use of lobbyists. McMahon said the company hired government relations specialists in Washington to help with efforts such as Smackdown Your Vote, which encourages young people to vote. McMahon acknowledged after the debate that the company also lobbied against a bill that it believed would have infringed on its free speech rights.
Blumenthal's campaign staff said the 2001 bill would have penalized media companies that market adult content to children. WWE has said all its programming became PG in June 2008.