U.S. Senate candidates, Democrat Richard Blumenthal (L) and Republican Linda McMahon (R) debate on the stage at the Garde Arts Center on October 12, 2010 in New London, Connecticut.
It was a soft-spoken smackdown at the first debate between U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Blumenthal and rival Linda McMahon Monday night, as the pair faced off over the Democrat's misstatements about his military service and the Republican's tenure running World Wrestling Entertainment.
The two also crossed swords at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford over their dueling TV spots - his about comments she made on the minimum wage rates (he says she wants to lower it), and hers in which slams him for what he's said was "misspeaking" about whether he was actually on the ground during the Vietnam as opposed to serving in the military, but in the United States.
Yet the ugly moments, while frequent, were subdued, with Blumenthal speaking in measured tones and McMahon sounding level throughout.
One of the hottest back-and-forths came early, when McMahon said that Blumenthal ought to yank the minimum wage ad, saying he was deliberately misrepresenting that she'd proposed a wage cut.
"That's a lie," McMahon said. "You know that's a lie. I never said it....I want to take that off the table."
Blumenthal was on defense about an ad that McMahon put on the air a short time before their debate, in which she revisited one of the most memorable opposition-research hits of the 2010 cycle - the Democrat's statements in some public venues in which he talked about serving "in" the Vietnam War instead of "during."
The ad asks, "What else is he lying about?"
"Let me say again, as I've said before, there is nothing new in this ad, and there is nothing new about the McMahon attack on me," he said, speaking slowly and deliberately. He added, as he's said in the past, that he didn't mean to make the errors out of "hundreds" of times he talked about being in the Marine Corps reserves, but said he was "sorry," particularly to veterans.
"I regret it. I take full responsibility for it," he said, adding that he didn't do it on purpose but that's not an "excuse."
He didn't directly answer a panelist's question about why he didn't serve in combat missions, instead of in the reserves."
Blumenthal, who's been an elected official for decades and is the state's Attorney General, had less to prove than McMahon did. But the first-time candidate, who's spent more than $40 million on her campaign from her personal fortunate, held her own, while Blumenthal got off some zingers but also had an occasionally awkward turn of phrase.
Blumenthal jabbed at McMahon's wealth and the amount of cash she's pouring into the contest repeatedly, prompting a sharp rebuke from her: "I won't let you ...count my money, and I won't about the fact that your family owns the Empire State Building." She sought to paint him as a career politician and a part of the larger problem nationally.
McMahon also defended her company over criticism of some of its more risque aspects, as well as the questions about the health of the wrestlers and how they're treated.
Blumenthal accused her of not providing proper health benefits, which she said was untrue and added, 'I just won't stand for his mischaracterization of that."
She insisted the wrestlers, who she's had to answer repeated questions over in response to reports of deaths at young ages and drug addiction, are well "cared for," and given physicals and concussion checks.
Blumenthal, at another point, accused McMahon of only working to create jobs now that we are in good times," instead of "when the chips were down," a slightly discordant note given that the nation's unemployment rate remains high.
When they were able to ask each other a question, McMahon asked Blumenthal how one creates a job, and he struggled a bit, saying they're created "in a variety of ways" with a "variety of people."
Yet he gave back as good as he got, such as when McMahon said that government can't make jobs, but entrepreneurs do, and Blumenthal replied, "I'm not going to be an entrepreneur as a senator."
McMahon also said she favored repealing the health care reform bill, while Blumenthal said it's a "good start" but that cost controls need to be in place.
He also drew laughs when he said the public deserved an election, "not an auction," but McMahon fired back that she'd earned her money and knew the electorate couldn't be bought.
Polls have shown conflicting results, although the latest ones suggest Blumenthal has opened up something of a lead. There are four weeks remaining in the race.
There was a brief, three-question lightning round in which they picked baseball teams and types of pizza crusts - Yankees and thin crust for both - and gave versions of the same answer about their thoughts on retiring Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, whose seat they're vying for.
"Not running," Blumenthal said, to chuckles.
"Retired," McMahon agreed.