Norwich - The three leading Democratic candidates vying to become the state's next U.S. senator faced questions about the country's housing crisis, the difficulties of the middle class and a potential closure of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton in a debate Saturday night.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, and State Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, spent about 90 minutes answering questions in their first in a series debates that will unfold over the next several months.
All three are running with hopes of filling the seat of Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who is retiring. The debate, held before a mostly full auditorium at Norwich Free Academy's Slater Museum, was hosted by the Norwich Bulletin. Ray Hackett, the newspaper's editorial page editor, served as moderator.
Murphy reportedly leads the three candidates in fundraising. When questioned about the middle class and the housing crisis, he said he supports more favorable interest rates for homeowners in need.
Like the other candidates, Murphy said he would argue against another Base Realignment and Closure process - which could place the Groton submarine base on a list of bases slated for closure. He said another BRAC process would be ineffective because the process in 2005 was much more costly than lawmakers initially envisioned.
Murphy largely stood behind his record in Congress and said his experience in Washington gives him an advantage over his opponents.
"I don't have to talk about what I'm going to do," Murphy said. "You just have to look at what I have done."
Bysiewicz, a native of Middletown, was critical of Murphy's voting record on a hedge fund loophole that she said has allowed the rich to avoid paying some taxes.
The former secretary of the state voiced her support for a transaction tax on financial trading, which she said would place the onus on banks to help solve the housing crisis. It would aim to create revenue to aid the middle class and advance renewable energy sources, she said.
"I'm the only candidate in this race with a specific plan to hold Wall Street accountable for the damage they've done," Bysiewicz said. "We can't (get our economy going) until we stabilize the housing market."
Tong talked about his background: He said he grew up working with his parents and washing dishes in the family's Chinese restaurant.
He acknowledged his underdog status in the race while presenting a four-pronged plan that aims to help people find a good job, a home, perhaps a small business and a great education.
Hackett questioned what Tong would say if Linda McMahon, a Republican candidate for the Senate seat, called Tong a political insider and another "tax-spending Democrat."
McMahon, the World Wrestling Entertainment executive, unsuccessfully ran for Senate two years ago and spent more than $50 million of her own fortune on her campaign. She has announced another run for Lieberman's seat.
"She wants to run against Chris Murphy or Susan Bysiewicz. She wants to pick a fight with people who have spent most of their adult lives in elected office," Tong said of McMahon. "She wants to run against Washington. She cannot do that to me."
The candidates avoided any major attacks on each other during the debate. Hackett asked questions about the candidates' ideas on foreign policy and escalating gas prices. Each candidate had 25 minutes to craft responses and were timed by volunteers.
Prior to the debate, supporters of all three candidates gathered outside the NFA campus. Bysiewicz and Murphy supporters stationed themselves with political signs at an intersection off the Chelsea Parade and waved to passing motorists.