(Updated 5:40 p.m.) Unlike last week’s event, there was no name-calling Monday at the U.S. Senate debate, even though Lee Whitnum, the candidate who called U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy a pro-Israel “whore” last week, would have liked a more controversial format.
Following the debate, Whitnum, the former software engineer from Greenwich who was probably the least well-known of the candidates until last week’s televised performance, said that with “the format in these debates you really can’t get into it.”
“There are so many things that the frontrunners have done that have been so attack-worthy and we don’t get a chance to really hash it out,” Whitnum said.
Murphy, the frontrunner both in the polls and fundraising, said “there were less theatrics, but I don’t think Whitnum’s comments were any less outrageous.”
“Her continual insistence that Israel has something to do with 9/11 is over the line,” Murphy said following the debate which will air at 7 p.m. tonight on Fox 61.
Whitnum referred to the 9/11 Commission and testimony offered regarding the attack. She insisted an FBI agent testified it was “because they feel sympathy for the Palestinians.”
Murphy said he let her comments go Monday so “we didn’t have a blow up on stage,” but he added that “this kind of talk from her continues to be irresponsible.”
The candidates all signed an agreement with The Courant and Fox 61, the sponsors of Monday’s debate, and agreed to be courteous and respectful. They also agreed to be removed from the debate if they violated the agreement.
Prior to the debate Murphy’s campaign sent out a press release touting the “positive campaign” promise he signed along with state Rep. William Tong back in January at the Southbury Democratic Town Committee.
The pledge says: “Negative campaigning includes the use of campaign tactics against an opponent by 1. Publicizing information taken out of context; 2. Disseminating misleading or false information as fact, and; 3. Perpetrating attacks against a person’s character or appearance.”
Whitnum said she has no problem signing a civility pledge. “Sure, I’d sign that,” she said.
Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said she too has no problem signing the pledge as long as the candidates can still disagree on certain issues.
“I absolutely believe it’s important to be civil. I also think it’s appropriate to discuss policy differences we each have,” Bysiewicz said.
Matthew Oakes, of East Hartford, said Whitnum’s performance today proves she’s “a one-trick pony.”
“You ask a question about what color your tie is and the answer is Israel,” Oakes said. “Israel is not the answer to every single question.”
Whitnum found a way to talk about U.S. support for Israel when asked a question about how she would preserve manufacturing jobs in America. She said manufacturing is hurting in the U.S. because people have no money to buy things.
“I have this idea of bringing money to buy goods,” Whitnum said. “How about the $30 billion that this Congressman just pledged to Israel — a country that is not impoverished.”
Murphy ignored the attack.
The Non-Political Side
The lightning round where candidates were encouraged to give short answers to questions unrelated to politics may have been the most interesting part of the hour-long debate Monday.
The five candidates were asked to talk about the last book they had read and the last concert they had attended.
Murphy said he’s currently reading the Steve Jobs biography and the last concert he attended was that of “obscure” folk singer Greg Laswell.
He said Jobs’ biography gives him the chance to get in the mind of a “great American inventor” and includes some “good gossip.” As for the concert, Murphy said he stole away from the U.S. Capitol to catch Laswell’s show in Washington, D.C.
Tong is currently reading the “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. The book is about an unnamed African-American man who considers himself socially invisible. Tong, the first Asian American to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, said he can relate.
Oakes, who hasn’t previously run for public office, said the last book he read was a Star Trek novel by William Shatner. The crowd laughed.
“I don’t want it published he already started lying before he wins,“ Oakes joked afterward.
Whitnum stayed true to form and said the last book she read was “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.
“The bible to the cause that I represent,” she said, describing it.
Bysiewicz said she’s reading “Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage.” The book was written by Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty while he was a professor at Yale. She said the U.S. government should be embracing the policies laid out in the book.
As for Bysiewicz’s last concert? Her son’s band recital at Middletown High School.
Whitnum counted watching “The Phantom of the Opera” on PBS as her last concert. Tong said he took his wife to see Eryka Badu at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Oakes went to see Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge.
Watch the debate here.