The general election campaign for U.S. Senate was only hours old Wednesday when Republican Linda McMahon launched a robocall to 300,000 senior citizen households accusing Democratic rival Chris Murphy of voting to cut Medicare by $700 billion.
Murphy, a three-term congressman from the 5th District, called the allegation a lie that was ripped from the national GOP playbook — and then challenged McMahon to a debate next week about their respective plans for creating jobs.
"The differences are huge between Linda McMahon's jobs record and my jobs record and increasingly we're not exactly clear what her plan is,'' Murphy said during a press conference after touring a Wallingford manufacturing firm. "So I have a suggestion on how to solve this: I think Linda McMahon [and I] should get together next week to debate her record on jobs against my record on jobs. Let's not wait until September or October. I'm sure her schedule is busy. But I'm also sure she could find an hour and a half ... any day next week to get together."
McMahon said she would debate Murphy when his jobs plan is complete. "When he decides to come forth with his [jobs plan], we'll have a debate about jobs," she said during a campaign appearance at a deli in Fairfield.
McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss was more blunt, dismissing Murphy's challenge as "a cheap campaign stunt."
"Chris Murphy wants to throw a campaign stunt together in the depths of August, but we would rather debate the issues in full view of the voters of Connecticut when in the bright spotlight of the fall campaign,'' Bliss said in an email. Bliss added that McMahon has already agreed to two debates and would participate in two more, provided they be devoted solely to the issue of job creation and that at least one be held in Groton, home to Electric Boat. The first debate is scheduled for Sept. 30.
The candidates, who are competing for the open seat now held by Sen.Joseph I. Lieberman, who is not running for re-election, have sharply different political philosophies and prescriptions for how government can improve the economy. But they also have different campaign styles — and that difference was on full display Wednesday, the day after winning their respective party primaries.
Murphy visited Proton OnSite, a manufacturing and engineering firm specializing in renewable energy and fuel cells. He contrasted his record with that of McMahon, the multimillionaire co-founder and former CEO of the wrestling and entertainment company now known as WWE.
"As we head into the fall campaign, there's going to be a simple question posed to voters: Who do you trust to stand up and protect middle class jobs, Linda McMahon or me?" Murphy asked.
McMahon has been criticizing Murphy for weeks, saying he lacks a comprehensive plan to create jobs and foster economic growth. But Murphy said McMahon's jobs plan was cobbled together from "the same failed economic policies of Republican presidents and Republican presidential candidates."
"Linda McMahon doesn't know what her plan is,'' Murphy added. "She paid for it from a New York-based consultant and it changes as the political winds change. It's a political document, it's not an economic document.''
Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh responded Wednesday evening that McMahon's plan was a real proposal that guarantees a middle class tax cut. "This is a comprehensive six-point plan to get the Connecticut economy moving again. An economist evaluated it."
McMahon's first stop Wednesday afternoon was the Firehouse Deli in Fairfield, where she signed autographs and posed for pictures and ducked behind the counter to say hello to the staff. She was joined by state Senate Republican leader John McKinney, who had backed McMahon's primary rival, former Congressman Christopher Shays.
McKinney said he joined McMahon on the trail as a gesture to promote party unity. "I want the world to know I support her 100 percent," he said.
While McMahon was chatting amiably with voters at the diner, her campaign was unrolling a tough robocall accusing Murphy of voting to cut Medicare for current recipients. "Chris Murphy voted to cut $700 billion out of our Medicare benefits,'' a female voice says. "I don't know about you, but I rely on my Medicare benefits. And politicians like Chris Murphy need to keep their hands off."
The attack mirrors an anti-Obama ad produced by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. "Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare," the narrator says. "So now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that's not for you."
Both ads refer to reductions in Medicare spending that were approved as part of the Affordable Care Act. The savings are due to cuts in reimbursements to hospitals and insurance companies and other changes that are part of the health care overhaul. Those reductions do not directly impact Medicare beneficiaries or the services they receive.