Longshot U.S. Senate candidate Merrick Alpert came out swinging Monday and at least appeared to have had frontrunner Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on the ropes during their first televised debate.

From healthcare to the war in Afghanistan, Alpert presented himself as a change agent and painted Blumenthal as an “incrementalist” who has contributed the state’s anti-business reputation with his lawsuits.

“For me, incrementalism is not necessarily a dirty word,” Blumenthal countered. And filing those lawsuits helps level the playing field for businesses in the state, he added.

“I think incrementalism is a dirty word … incrementalism is the darling of career politicians,” Alpert said.

The hour-long exchange between Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Alpert and Blumenthal took place Monday evening at a half-full theater on the University of Hartford campus.

Both candidates were given two minutes to answer questions on a everything from jobs to foreign policy. Then each was given a one-minute rebuttal.

On healthcare, Alpert said he supports a Medicare for all or a single-payer system. In a single-payer system, everyone is covered because everyone pays into the system, thus lowering costs. “The only way we’re going to get out of this mess is by something big and bold, and that’s why I’m offering something big and bold,” Alpert said after the debate.

During the debate, Blumenthal offered a plan to pool purchasing power and apply anti-trust laws to health insurance companies as a solution.

During his one-minute rebuttal, Alpert attacked Blumenthal on his record of service as attorney general. Alpert said that over the past 20 years Blumenthal has served as attorney general, insurance rates have skyrocketed. Then he asked Blumenthal a direct question—a tactic he used repeatedly at the end of his responses throughout the evening—about how the lawsuits he has filed as attorney general have kept insurance costs down.

“We have been straightjacketed by a system that’s too weak, impotent, and ineffective,” Blumenthal answered. If elected, Blumenthal said anti-trust laws applied to health insurance companies would ensure competition.

On the war in Afghanistan, Blumenthal said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to answer the question in two minutes because of the complexity of the issue. He said he supports President Barack Obama’s decision to increase the U.S. troop levels there, then draw them down again in 18 months. He then talked about how he’s attended every National Guard send-off and homecoming in the state.

Alpert came out strongly against the war, saying it’s not in “our national security interests.” He said he rather spend the estimated $4 billion a month in the United States, rather than spending it on a corrupt Afghani government.

“I rely on the judgment of our military commanders on the ground,” Blumenthal said. “I believe this surge is necessary.“

Pulling out now would leave the military that’s still there exposed, he said. Toward the end of the debate during a question about the Bush tax cuts, Blumenthal tried to paint his opponent as someone who doesn’t support the troops. Alpert, a former Air Force Officer took such exception to the remark that he interrupted Blumenthal briefly to deny it.

On U.S. policy with Cuba, Blumenthal said the U.S. should move to “normalize relations with Cuba,” and once the Castros are gone, help the Cubans establish a more Democratic form of government. He then said he listens to the people of Connecticut and would talk to the Cubans to find out what they want for their country.

Alpert responded by saying Cubans find it abhorrent that the U.S. continues to block aid to their country. He said the policy has been an abysmal failure. “It’s shameful we continue this silliness,” Alpert said.

“I believe strongly we will normalize relations to the benefit of both countries,” Blumenthal said. “The question is how to get there, working step-by-step.”

“Why wait,” Alpert asked. “Are you afraid they’ll like us?”

Post Debate

After the debate there was an expectation that both Alpert and Blumenthal would be available for questions. With more than a dozen reporters present, however, Blumenthal bolted with his wife to a fundraiser at a private home in Fairfield County.

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman offered to stand in for Blumenthal, who rarely turns down a chance to speak with members of the media

“Merrick is a very nice young man, but I have a hard time comparing Dick’s record to Merrick’s rhetoric,” Wyman said. “Where is he going to get the money for everything he talks about?”

Alpert admitted that expanding Medicare to everyone would cost billions of dollars, but added that his view is that “it’s costing us more right now.”

When asked about the tone of his rhetoric, which seemed to mirror the comments Republican candidates are making about Blumenthal, Alpert responded with this: “Don’t mistake this guy for the red team. I play for the blue team.”

Alpert said he will support the candidate that wins the Democratic primary.

It should be noted that no cameras were allowed in the auditorium during the debate, which is why there are no photos of Blumenthal. Blumenthal left immediately following the debate