HARTFORD, Conn. — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy sought to refocus Connecticut's increasingly personal and contentious Senate race, challenging his Republican rival Linda McMahon to talk about the issues he said voters care about, such as women's health care, Medicare and taxes.
Murphy, under fire in recent weeks from McMahon about his personal finances, acknowledged Tuesday he has made mistakes with late rent and mortgage payments. But he called McMahon's televised attacks "baseless" and "despicable," and said the voters want an election that's about issues affecting them.
"They want this campaign to be about their access to health care, they want it to be about who's going to create more jobs. They want this campaign to be about who's going to balance the budget," Murphy told a group of supporters and reporters, as well as some McMahon backers with signs, at a news conference at Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford.
But McMahon's campaign showed no signs of letting up. McMahon's campaign manager, Corry Bliss, issued a scathing statement accusing Murphy of being a hypocrite for demanding an issues-focused campaign while refusing to release personal financial documents concerning a home equity loan that McMahon has questioned.
"Chris Murphy clearly doesn't want to acknowledge it, but the fact that he is a corrupt, career politician in full cover-up mode has become one of the biggest issues of this campaign," said Bliss, adding how Murphy should "stop playing games" and release a detailed plan to reverse Connecticut's unemployment rate.
Recent public opinion polls show the two candidates seeking to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman are in a statistical dead heat. The race has become increasingly testy, with both candidates accusing one another of hypocrisy, telling lies and attempting to distract the voters to duck issues.
Much debate has focused on personal finances. McMahon recently filed an ethics complaint with the U.S. House accusing Murphy of using his congressional position to obtain a favorable credit line, months after defaulting on his mortgage. Murphy denied Tuesday he received a special deal, but did not release any documents, saying Webster Bank and newspapers have verified his claim.
"I've made mistakes with my personal finances but I've paid back what I owed," Murphy said.
Murphy accused McMahon on Tuesday of being hypocritical for making late property tax payments.
"During the exact period of time that she's running ads lying about my financial history, she wasn't paying her own taxes in Stamford, literally while the ad was on TV, she hadn't paid $26,000 in taxes she owed in Stamford," he said.
Murphy has also criticized McMahon, the wealthy former CEO of the WWE, formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment, for not paying off her creditors from an old bankruptcy until last week.
During the weekend, the state's largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, said in an editorial that the issue of personal finances has become a distraction.
"This is a contest for the U.S. Senate, not "The Suze Orman Show," the newspaper said, referring to the financial expert.
Murphy took the opportunity on Tuesday to highlight his support for abortion and women's health care, including requiring insurance coverage for contraception and mammograms. He has a new TV ad accusing McMahon of supporting anti-abortion Republicans if she's elected. McMahon has said she probably would have voted for the Blunt Amendment, a proposal that would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of provisions in the federal health care law on moral or religious grounds, including its requirement to provide birth control for free.
"She might be telling people over the course of this campaign that she's pro-choice, but her election would virtually assure that the U.S. Senate would be run by right-wing leadership that will work every day to overturn Roe vs. Wade and criminalize a woman's right to choose," Murphy said.
Roe vs. Wade is the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
McMahon's campaign shot back, with Bliss accusing Murphy of intentionally misrepresenting McMahon's support for women's issues to distract voters. He said McMahon supports abortion rights and has a record of providing outstanding health care coverage to her employers at WWE, including mammograms and birth control.