Personal finances, voting records, women's health care and dueling economic plans — the four dominant issues in Connecticut's close U.S. Senate race — monopolized the second debate on Thursday between Republican Linda McMahon and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.
While the two candidates vying to fill the seat held by the retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman revealed little new about their positions, each got a chance to sharpen their attacks against one another.
Murphy received cheers from the crowd at the University of Connecticut when he accused McMahon of being addicted to making personal attacks while reticent to talk about the issues. It came after she called on him to release documents from a personal line of credit she has questioned.
"She is desperate to make this race and these debates about anything other than issues," Murphy told reporters afterward.
McMahon acknowledged the Senate campaign "has its share on both sides" of negative ads, and that she believes the debates have shown there is a clear difference between the two candidates.
"There is a person who has a plan on how to get our folks back to work and get our economy back on track," McMahon said of herself, repeating her accusation that Murphy does not have a jobs plan and supported policies during his time in Congress that she says have led to high unemployment and high gas and food prices.
Thursday's debate, sponsored by FOX CT, the Hartford Courant and the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, comes as polls show the race is neck and neck. About 700 tickets were distributed for the event, which drew many students. Two more debates are planned, for Oct. 15 in New London and Oct. 18 in Hartford.
Social Security and taxes were also themes on Thursday night.
McMahon scolded Murphy for running a TV ad accusing her of wanting to "sunset" or end Social Security, saying the ad was false. Even though she used the phrase during a videotaped event with tea party activists, McMahon reiterated that she does not support federal budget cuts to Social Security or Medicare and does not want to end Social Security. But she said reform is needed, adding that the two programs are not financially sustainable.
"Chris, you know you have to be honest. You're not being honest about this whole thing," McMahon said. "I have said all along that I would never cut or support a budget that (cuts) benefits to our seniors and I won't."
Murphy criticized McMahon for not offering any specific ideas for paring the cost of the two government health care programs. He has called for lifting the cap on the amount of income that's taxed to raise money for Medicare. He has also called for cutting the rate of growth in the program.
"I'm willing to be specific," he said. "Linda McMahon in the last campaign and this campaign won't tell voters where she stands on these issues."
McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, now known as WWE, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and lost to now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the former Democratic state attorney general. In both campaigns, she has said that members of Congress need to work together to come up with ways to reduce the cost of both programs.
The two clashed on other issues, such as extending the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts: Murphy wants to extend them only for the middle class while McMahon supports continuing them for everyone, including the wealthy. She also has called for reducing middle-class tax rates, a proposal that Murphy said was fiscally unbalanced.
The candidates also sparred over their respective finances and voting records.
McMahon continued to question a loan that Murphy received after facing foreclosure, while Murphy criticized McMahon for not paying back creditors from an old $1 million bankruptcy until two months before the election.
After McMahon brought up her repeated accusation that Murphy missed 75 percent of his congressional hearings, Murphy accused McMahon of being a hypocrite because she acknowledged in her 2010 race that her track record as a voter had been spotty.