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Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy clash in a feisty debate, both brand the other as dishonest

You may have watched the U.S. Presidential debate on Wednesday between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Cagesiders, but the election that will have the most direct effect on the wrestling business is the one in Connecticut where former WWE CEO Linda McMahon faces Democrat Chris Murphy. They faced off in their first debate this morning, which can be seen on the website, and delivered far more in the way of fireworks than the relatively civil affair that their party leaders had. I thought Murphy had the edge in the verbal battle, which Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post agreed with, being the more energetic, on the ball and wittier of the two, but McMahon managed to stick to her talking points well and only made one minor slip up, so everything is still to play for, in what has become a surprisingly tight race.

The tone of the debate was set by the first question, where the topic of their financial troubles in the past was raised. McMahon struck the first blow by hammering home her accusations that Murphy benefitted from a "sweetheart" loan deal by a local bank due to his political status:

"An occasional financial slip is really not what we're talking about here. But you absolutely need to be honest with the people of Connecticut. You need to be honest about your special interest loan, you need to be honest about your attendance in Washington -- those are issues that are important to the folks of Connecticut because they want to know they can they trust [their political representatives]."

Murphy's rebuttal made Linda look pig sick, as he went after her achilles heel, her carny background in the world of scripted entertainment:

"Well, Linda McMahon should stop spreading this fiction that I have no plan to create jobs. I know she made her living making up stories in the wrestling ring, but it's not O.K. to make them up when you're running for the United States Senate."

Murphy finished off by saying that his tax cuts would focus on the middle class, not on the affluent and the wealthy, like McMahon's would, a charge she later denied.

The most heated point of the debate came soon after when Murphy accused McMahon of lifting her jobs plan, which bares a startling resemblance to Mitt Romney's economic prescription, from right wing ideologues:

"Linda McMahon's economic plan is focused on giving herself a seven million dollar tax cut and just kind of hoping that eventually that money trickles down to people that need help.... Now, Linda does have a plan on her website, but as we've recently learned a good part of that is just lifted word for word, paragraph by paragraph from right-wing Republican sites in Washington. It's not a plan for Connecticut, it's a plan that essentially parrots a bunch of talking points that haven't worked for this country."

McMahon was absolutely disgusted at the dirty smear that she was a plagiarist:

"Congressman Murphy, shame on you. You have just accused me of plagiarizing my plan. It is beneath a Congressman whose sitting today in Congress or anyone who is running for the United States Senate. You know very well that my plan is my own. I have sought the expert opinion of those outside to get the brightest and the best and every word of that plan has been cited either on the online plan or in print. You know when you got into this race as a Democrat in the state of Connecticut, you thought this was going to be a coronation, but now you're in a serious race with a serious woman and you have resorted now to these kind of policies. But it's desperate to you, Congressman Murphy."

However, as Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post points out, there is indeed evidence of several sections of her jobs plan being copied from conservative think tank sources. Moreover, she made that exact same nasty charge to Rob Simmons, her U.S. Senate Republican primary opponent in 2010, who has now ironically become a bit of a fan of hers, though he admitted to his heinous sin and apologised. Though most damning was when she was probed after the debate was over by a reporter about whether there was anything unique to her plan, there wasn't anything solid she could point to, instead trying to bluff her way out of the question by harping on about her experience as a CEO.

Murphy fared better when the questions focused more on nitty gritty policy details. He quoted Fred Carstensen, the director of the Connecticut Centre for Economic Analysis, that Linda's economic plan would be "a recipe to balloon the federal deficit at a phenomenal rate, it looks like her items were simply picked off a menu of politically attractive items". When McMahon refused to answer whether she would consider increasing payroll taxes to help pay for Social Security, Murphy said Linda gave an answer "that was a minute and 30 seconds of I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do if you elect me". She also avoided directly answering a question about how the recession had personally affected herself, so Murphy answered it for her:

"So how did this recession affect Linda McMahon? In 2009, Linda McMahon's company took $10 million in state tax credits designed to create jobs and at the same time she laid off 10 percent of her workforce and made $46 million that year. Now, she says it was just a tough time, it was a bad recession, well all she had to do to keep those 10 percent of her workers onboard was to just make about $8 million less that year, decide that she could get by on $38 million that year rather than $46 million and those people could still be working.... This recession hasn't seemed to have affected Linda McMahon."

He also managed to earn brownie points with the Huffington Post for calling out Linda McMahon for repeating Mitt Romney's misleading claim that Obamacare had let to a $700 billion cut of funding for Medicare:

"President Obama let Mitt Romney get away with this $700 billion lie, and I'm not going to let Linda McMahon get away with it. That money was taken out of the budgets of health insurers who were being massively subsidized for providing Medicare Advantage, it was being taken out of the pockets of drug industries, companies who were making billions off of care for our seniors."

Nonetheless, McMahon managed to keep her head above water during these exchanges, staying on message, though not being able to come up with an effective counter to the quoted attacks by Murphy.

Where Linda came really unglued was on the controversial issue of gay marriage, giving a terse, muddled answer that made her come off unprepared for such a hot button subject:

"Well, I live in Connecticut and I absolutely support America's law for, you know, same-sex marriage. And, uh, I wouldn't pretend to try to impose my will or rights on others, I think everyone should have, you know, the freedom to make that choice."

As everyone knows America currently doesn't have a same-sex marriage law and Murphy ruthlessly pounced on this slip of the tongue:

"Well, America doesn't have a law protecting same-sex marriage, in fact it has the exact opposite, the United States has a law that doesn't allow people to marry based on their choice, that discriminates against individuals based on their sexual orientation, and, you know, I think the fact that Linda McMahon spent only about 20 seconds answering that question, tell you that she's not going to stand up to her party in Washington when it comes to these issues that are right now being dominated by the social right in Washington. There is a war being waged against gays and lesbians and I've been proud to stand on one side of that war. I was proud to stand up to end the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that discriminates against brave men and women in the military and I'm proud to stand for the idea that anyone in this country, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be treated the same."

Though Linda flubbed on this topic, it was her only major mistake of the debate and thankfully it was on an issue that only directly affects a small minority of voters. She clearly knew it as well, as after the debate was over she said she would vote to repeal the Defence Of The Marriage act and gave a better answer on why she would do so (though it must be noted that this was a very recent flip flop on her previous stance, perhaps explaining why she gave such an unconvincing answer in the debate itself):

"It doesn't seem fair that the folks in Connecticut have the right to be married and they don't have the same rights as a heterosexual couple for federal benefits. I just don't think that's fair."

That's still a bit wishy washy for my tastes, but at least she's on the right side of the issue.

Murphy closed the debate by being a bit heavy handed in his criticism of Linda McMahon's attack ads. Though he's right that Linda did try to destroy Dick Blumenthal's reputation in 2010 and is attempting to do the same to him now, he went a bit far when he said Linda was engaging in "some of the most deceitful personal attack ads that this state has ever seen ... against me and my family and my wife". To be fair, Linda has done nothing in the race so far to disparage the rest of his family including his wife, while he's definitely taken some indirect shots at Linda's husband, Vince McMahon.

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