For about a week Chris Murphy’s Senate campaign has been on the offensive, travelling to nursing homes across the state in an effort to contrast his position on entitlement programs with remarks his opponent Linda McMahon made in April.
Murphy, currently Connecticut’s 5th District representative, is in a tight race with the former wrestling CEO for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat.
The campaign’s new focus on the future Social Security and Medicare is likely a relief for Murphy, who has spent much of the time since the primary on the defensive, responding to a series of ads run by McMahon’s largely self-funded campaign.
Early on in the race, the McMahon campaign hammered Murphy for stating that his plan to create jobs was a work in progress. It’s questioned Murphy’s work ethic, pointing to his attendance records at legislative committee hearings. The campaign has also suggested Murphy received a “sweetheart” loan deal from Webster Bank even after he defaulted on his mortgage a year earlier.
The steady stream of TV spots and daily emails to reporters have kept Murphy responding to criticisms and frequently knocked him off message.
The McMahon campaign responded to earlier efforts to paint her as out of touch with women’s issues with a TV spot featuring McMahon facing the camera saying “Chris, take a look: I am a woman, a choice woman.”
But the Democrat has stayed focused on the entitlement issues since last week after The Huffington Post ran an article in which McMahon comments on the future of the Social Security program at an event in April.
Speaking before a group of Tea Party supporters, McMahon said she would consider introducing a “sunset provision” for entitlement programs such as Social Security. Sunset provisions require Congress to take a vote re-authorizing a program in order for it to continue.
The Murphy campaign has seized on the comments. Since Thursday, Murphy has visited five nursing homes in towns and cities throughout the state. On Wednesday he and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal made a stop at a nursing home in Meriden. Another senior citizen stop was planned later in the day in Norwich where Murphy and Blumenthal were set to appear with retiring state Sen. Edith Prague, who serves as co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Aging Committee.
The future of Social Security and Medicare have become a centerpiece of Murphy’s campaign.
“I’m running for Senate because I want to protect Social Security,” Murphy told the seniors in Meriden. “I want to protect it for you and protect it for future generations.”
In a Wednesday email, Murphy told supporters McMahon’s position on Social Security and her willingness to consider privatizing Medicare will be defining issues in the last month of the campaign.
The McMahon campaign has said repeatedly that the comments were taken out of context, saying she is committed to strengthening both programs through a bipartisan effort, and would oppose any effort to privatize them.
“Every time you think Congressman Murphy’s campaign can’t possibly be any more pathetic, he sinks to an even lower low,” McMahon’s campaign manager Corry Bliss said in a statement.
Bliss said that McMahon would never vote for a budget that cut Social Security or Medicare and suggested Murphy was distorting McMahon’s positions to distract from his own voting record. That record, Bliss points out, includes a vote for the Affordable Care Act, which among other things, reduces Medicare payments to health insurance companies and care providers by $716 billion over 10 years. The McMahon campaign refers to that provision as “gutting Medicare funding.”
The McMahon campaign released a new ad Wednesday making similar points.
“There’s only one candidate in this race who has a record of cutting entitlements to seniors, and that’s Chris Murphy,” Bliss said.
Asked about the McMahon campaign’s statements indicating he was misrepresenting her positions, Murphy said Bliss wouldn’t be the one voting in the Senate if McMahon were elected.
“Her campaign seems to be constantly walking back comments Linda McMahon makes herself. Linda McMahon will be the senator for this state, not her campaign manager and Linda McMahon consistently says she will consider the privatization of Medicare and on more than one occasion has said she would support sunsetting Social Security,” Murphy said.
Wednesday’s Meriden event was billed as a joint talk with Murphy and Max Richtman, president and CEO of National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. But a Murphy spokesman said Richtman was not able to get to Connecticut from Washington D.C. and Blumenthal was brought in to replace him.
On Tuesday Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon for his seat in 2010, declined to speculate what type of working relationship he would have with his former opponent if she emerged from the close race victorious. But he voiced concerns about the balance of that relationship to seniors Wednesday.
Blumenthal said he needs a Connecticut partner in the fight to preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“If there is someone who represents Connecticut who takes the other side, we’re going to have votes cancel each other out, right? If they vote to cut Social Security and I’m voting to retain it at its present level, in it’s present form, we have something less than a united front,” Blumenthal said.
Todd Abrajano, McMahon’s spokesman, said the fact that McMahon and Blumenthal have run against each other wouldn’t prevent McMahon from working with him on entitlement reform.
“Linda’s been very clear all along that she’s willing to work with everybody in the U.S. Senate who’s willing to work with her. If Dick Blumenthal wants to be part of a bipartisan solution, she would be happy to work with him,” Abrajano said.