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Hartford - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, fresh off her primary victory, is hitting her Democratic opponent hard.
The former wrestling executive is running a TV ad accusing U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy of missing nearly 80 percent of the hearings held by two key congressional committees during the financial crisis.
"If you skipped 80 percent of the meetings for your job, would you get a promotion?" asks the announcer, referring to the 5th Congressional District representative's bid for the U.S. Senate. McMahon's campaign said the ad refers to Murphy's hearing attendance record during the 110th Congress, which ran from Jan. 3, 2007, to Jan. 3, 2008.
McMahon's aggressive approach has prompted Murphy to fight back, just a week after winning the Democratic nomination. He began airing his own ad over the weekend in which he accuses McMahon of distorting his record on financial reform.
"Linda McMahon will do and say anything to get ahead, like running false negative ads," Murphy tells viewers, pointing out his 97 percent voting record. He does not address his attendance record at hearings held by the Government Oversight and Financial Services committees; however, his campaign spokeswoman said the House of Representatives wasn't in session in October 2008 and that Murphy was in Connecticut talking with constituents and business leaders about the economy.
In his ad, Murphy talks about how he's focused on creating jobs, such as helping to get federal funding to clean up an industrial site with workers that appears in the background. Murphy said "that's not just a plan, that's real," a reference to McMahon's six-point jobs plan, which calls for reductions in the middle-class tax rate and the rate for business income.
Besides his attendance record at hearings, McMahon has lodged criticism regarding Murphy's jobs plan, pouncing on how he once called it a "work in progress" as he collected input from Connecticut employers.
Trying to blunt McMahon's criticism, Murphy held a forum Tuesday evening in Hartford to discuss his jobs proposal - which includes funding for education and infrastructure improvements, as well as a focus on American manufacturing - and took questions from the audience.
He had originally challenged McMahon to debate their jobs plans on Tuesday, but she did not agree to participate, calling his request a campaign stunt.
"Only someone who shows up for work 20 percent of the time would have the free time to organize and attend a debate with himself," said Corry Bliss, McMahon's campaign manager.
Murphy addressed a crowd of more than 100 people, including some McMahon supporters who occasionally shouted at him. Murphy accused McMahon of conducting "political economic gamesmanship" by hiding behind TV ads to explain her jobs plan and not answering questions at a debate. McMahon has agreed to participate in four debates.
Murphy wants a total of eight debates.
"It's not too early to talk about jobs," he said. "That's what everybody cares about today."
Murphy said he would ask McMahon again to debate jobs.
"Clearly her campaign cares about this event because they sent a lot of people," he said. McMahon's supporters chanted "Linda! Linda!" as he wrapped up.
Murphy criticized McMahon's economic plan of benefiting the wealthy by extending tax cuts on higher incomes. He said McMahon would personally reap $7 million.
McMahon has said taxes should not be raised on anyone at this point. She said that when the economy improves, tax rates on higher income earners should be considered.
While McMahon has said this bid for the U.S. Senate will be more grassroots-oriented than her failed run in 2010, when she lost to Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal after spending about $50 million of her own money, she has already lent or contributed her 2012 campaign nearly $16 million. A lot of that has been spent on TV ads.
Marla Romash, an adviser to Blumenthal's campaign in 2010, said she hasn't seen much of a difference in McMahon's approach.
"The one thing she has is money and in politics money buys advertising. If that's the one weapon you can wield, that's what you wield," she said. "In the end, she tried that once before and it didn't work."