Published July 18. 2012 6:00PM Updated July 19. 2012 12:01AM
West Hartford — U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon had to bat down a barrage of questions Wednesday night about the release of her personal tax records during and after her final debate with fellow Republican Christopher Shays before their Aug. 14 primary.
Shays, a former Fairfield County congressman, criticized the Greenwich millionaire and former WWE executive for having yet to fulfill her pledge to make public her 2011 tax return.
"She said she would release her tax returns. She hasn't," he said.
McMahon, the convention-endorsed Republican in the race, said her return is still being worked on.
"I have repeatedly said that I will release my tax returns when they're done," McMahon said. "They're not done. As soon as they are, they will be released."
Asked whether the tax return would be released before the Aug. 14 primary, McMahon said, "I have every reason to believe that it will."
But Shays, whose campaign is trailing in the polls and facing financial constraints, attempted to draw a comparison between McMahon's still-absent tax document and her reluctance to sit before newspaper editorial boards or agree to do more than two one-on-one debates before the primary.
"I don't think she should have to release her tax returns for many years," Shays said. "But this is part of the problem that I have with Mrs. McMahon. She's been in an arena that is a make-believe arena. I've been in what I consider a very real-world arena."
In response, McMahon said that instead of going around the state meeting with editorial boards, she is meeting directly with the people of Connecticut.
"I learn more from them ... and it gives them an opportunity to talk to me," she said. "They continue to complain to me that they're tired of hearing the same old rhetoric from the career politicians in Washington who go back and get involved in the same old process."
The initial question on the whereabouts of McMahon's tax return was asked by a moderator of the live televised event, organized and hosted by NBC Connecticut WVIT-TV. Also during the debate, the candidates made rivaling vows to protect the Naval Submarine Base in Groton from any future closure threats.
"I would fight tooth and nail to keep our submarine base in Groton open and to protect those jobs at Electric Boat," McMahon said.
Shays referenced comments McMahon made to The Day that he said showed her lack of understanding about the Base Realignment and Closure process.
"I'm happy now she's going to vote against it," Shays said.
But McMahon noted how Shays actually voted in Congress for BRAC, in 1988, 1991 and 2002.
"Congressman Shays, you voted for BRAC ... and then you jumped on board to prevent the base from closing," McMahon said. Shays conceded the point and described those votes as lessons learned because he never expected Connecticut facilities to be targeted for closure.
"You're damn right I voted for it. And so did the other leaders in Congress and in Connecticut," he said.
When answering a question regarding women's reproductive rights, Shays invoked some of the questionable behavior that once occurred in WWE rings. "It is not right to say you care about women and have a program that denigrates women," Shays said.
McMahon responded: "Congressman Shays, you always get tied up in the Hollywood scripting of WWE and, as usual, you have your facts wrong."
After the debate, surrounded by reporters in the television studio's lobby, Shays said the income tax return issue "on a scale of one to 10 is a two, except for the fact it calls into question her integrity."
In her turn before post-debate cameras, McMahon said she and her accountants have filed for an extension and are still awaiting financial information needed to complete the tax return.
She repeatedly declined to say whether she would release her 2010 tax return during the wait for the 2011 documents — "next question," she said — and laughed off another question about whether she keeps money in any overseas accounts.
"We keep our money here in this country," she said.
On the Democrats' side, convention-endorsed Congressman Chris Murphy is facing Susan Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state, in the Aug. 14 primary.
The winner in November will gain the seat currently held by Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is retiring.