One of the five Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate never smoked pot, while another candidate wants to legalize it. One used to own a gun, another battled strep throat Sunday, and still another candidate fended off attacks from opponents during the hour-long live television debate on WFSB Sunday morning.
All five of the candidates tried to differentiate themselves as they fight for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
One of these Democrats will face Republican former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, Kie Westby, Brian K. Hill, or Peter Lumaj in the general election, but there is a long way to go before Nov. 6.
Brian Lockhart of the Hearst newspapers asked the candidates if there was anything in their background that could come out later and embarrass them like the video of Richard Blumenthal misrepresenting his military service. That video and the news stories about his statements created a national news storm, but in the end he still defeated McMahon by more than 100,000 votes.
Lockhart offered the candidates the opportunity to get in front of opposition researchers this time.
Lee Whitnum claimed everything about her life is already out there “all over the blogosphere. They skewer me.”
State Rep. William Tong, 39, who was battling strep throat Sunday along with his wife, used the question to talk about student loan debt and the role of the federal programs in higher education.
Tong said it’s embarrassing that he and his wife are still paying off their student loans.
“I’m one of the millions of people in this country that’s part of more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt,” Tong confessed. “It’s an albatross around the neck of American families.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said his life has been public for the past 15 years so there’s “certainly nothing I worry about.”
He said the question really goes after the current environment of electoral politics in this country where some feel the only way to get ahead is to “go after the jugular.”
“I think whoever the Republican is, we’re likely to see that. Whoever the Democrat is as well,” Murphy said.
In 2006, when Murphy sought former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson’s seat, he said the last ad Johnson ran was an ad attacking him, and the last ad he ran “said Nancy Johnson was a nice person and I just disagree with her on some issues.”
Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said there’s nothing she’s embarrassed about, having been in the public eye for about 18 years. She filled the rest of her one-minute answer talking about bringing the troops home from Afghanistan.
Matthew Oakes, the disabled East Hartford Democrat who walks with a cane, said he doesn’t think the question was phrased correctly. He said there’s nothing in his past that he is embarrassed about, but there’s plenty the Republicans could seek to use against him.
“If you enjoy political correctness, then I may not be your guy,” Oakes said.
If smoking marijuana is politically incorrect, then four of the five candidates admitted to it during the lightning round of short answers. The only candidate who hasn’t smoked marijuana was Bysiewicz.
During a discussion on the Second Amendment, Whitnum admitted that she had once owned a gun.
“I was a single woman. I lived alone for 30-plus years until I recently married,” Whitnum said. “I have owned a gun in the past and there is a level of peace of mind knowing you can protect yourself.”
Oakes advocated for getting rid of Washington, D.C. lobbyists and legalizing marijuana so the government can tax it.
“Let’s legalize marijuana,” Oakes said.
He claimed it would bring in an estimated “$7 billion or more a year in taxes.”
For the most part, all the candidates stayed on message, sometimes to a fault.
Bysiewicz used her one-minute opening statement to attack Murphy on one of his votes in 2010. The allegation has been made repeatedly by Bysiewicz’s campaign almost since the beginning of her campaign, but the issue has not yet gained traction.
In 2010, Murphy voted against the 433-page American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which primarily extended unemployment compensation before being amended to offer tax breaks to specific populations. It changed the tax treatment of carried interest, which is the main source of income for hedge-fund managers.
“I’m pointing out differences in tax policy that are important to the voters of Connecticut,” Bysiewicz said following the debate. “This campaign is about who will stand up for middle class voters and all of us will say we’re standing up for the middle class. The question is, who will really do it.”
The vote is one Bysiewicz has brought up at least once during every debate.
Murphy ignored the attack during his opening remarks. After the debate he said he’s aware other candidates are going to go after him because he’s the frontrunner.
“I understand that their path is to attack me,” Murphy said. “But I feel like I’ve responded over and over to that one attack, so it’s not necessary to keep doing it.”
Murphy said he plans on continuing to run a positive campaign.
“I think the defining argument in the general election is what role government has in the future of the middle class,” Murphy said.
Click here to watch the full debate.
WFSB will host the Republican candidates next Sunday at 11 a.m.