Call it the final smackdown.
In a Tuesday evening debate between Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Richard Blumenthal, the World Wrestling Entertainment company played prominently in the last hourlong meeting between the two Connecticut Senate candidates.
This debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was much more heated than the previous encounters between Blumenthal and McMahon. After all, it was a high-stakes meeting: With McMahon trailing by single digits in most public polls, this debate was the final opportunity for both candidates to take their opponent down live and on camera.
So, while the other two meetings between were marked by polite back-and-forth, this debate could be compared to an aggressive ring fight – with the WWE taking a starring role.
“There have been seven dead wrestlers since she started this campaign," Blumenthal said.
It was one of many charges that Blumenthal, a state attorney general, leveled at McMahon before an audience on the bare and dark auditorium stage in New London, Conn. The Democrat accused McMahon of inappropriately forcing wrestlers to sign a “death clause that absolved WWE of all responsibility if wrestlers were killed in the ring.”
McMahon responded that wrestlers, who are independent contractors, were “totally covered for any injury in the ring,” in addition to getting paid at least $500,000 per year and only having to work three days each week.
McMahon also didn’t back down when questioned how she could condone WWE’s programming, given that some viewers find it degrading to women. McMahon responded by saying she was “very proud” of her company and that it has “evolved” from more racy programming with a TV-14 rating to a more-palatable TV-PG rating in the last few years.
“I think there were times when we pushed the envelope,” said McMahon. “But I’m very proud of the company that today is involved in ‘SmackDown Your Vote,’ getting young people out to register and vote.”
But in the otherwise often-repetitive debate, perhaps most surprising was the issue that only came up once: Blumenthal’s previous inaccurate statements that he severed in Vietnam during the war. Only in the final minutes of the debate did McMahon accuse Blumenthal of not being trustworthy because of those statements.
It was a stark contrast to the first debate, when just hours before the two candidates faced off, McMahon’s campaign released a television advertisement on that very issue. At the time, McMahon’s campaign believed the advertisements would throw Blumenthal off of his game before that evening’s meeting.
But while the Vietnam issues did not play as prominently as in the other debates, much of what else Blumenthal and McMahon discussed were repeats of their previous meetings.
For McMahon, that meant hitting Blumenthal on whether he could create jobs in the state, charging that the Democrat did not know how to foster business.
In the first debate, Blumenthal bumbled through his answer on the issue – enough of a gaffe that McMahon used footage of his reply in a campaign advertisement. This time around, however, Blumenthal appeared to be prepared: He cited specific proposals about closing corporate loopholes overseas and offering programs that sponsored buying American-made goods.
And for Blumenthal, this meant reiterating his view that McMahon would consider decreasing the minimum wage – a position the Republican has vehemently disavowed several times in each of their three debates.
“If were asked that question I would not say I would look at cutting it, which is what she did. Look at the video,” said Blumenthal, pointing to recent footage of McMahon on the trail discussing the minimum wage issue.
“I absolutely do not believe that we should cut the minimum wage,” countered McMahon, who offered that she and Blumenthal both agree that Congress should review the minimum wage before raising it.
It was one of at least two times in which McMahon offered her agreement with Blumenthal on an issue during the program – the other being on not raising taxes on middle-class families.
Aside from brief moments of formal congeniality, the interaction between the two candidates was palpably tense – especially in the final moments, when Blumenthal and McMahon went back-and-forth on who was the most trustworthy nominee.
“I will not be lectured on straight talk,” Blumenthal said.
“I’m not lecturing you,” interrupted McMahon, over audible rumbles from the crowd.
“From a woman who has failed to be straight with the people of Connecticut on issues of minimum wage, Social Security...” continued Blumenthal before he was stopped by the moderator.
Just a few minutes earlier, moderator and local newscaster Ann Nyberg accidentally called McMahon, “Mrs. Blumenthal” when asking her a question – only to have the audience burst out in laughter.
The other debate moderator, Mark Davis, sarcastically quipped later: “You’re right, they do make a lovely couple.”