Next to McMahon, Murphy's regular guy

Forget issues in Connecticut's U.S. Senate campaign. The candidates already have. Stipulate that the Republican nominee, wrestling zillionaire Linda McMahon, would be a tool of her right-wing party and that the Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, would be a tool of his left-wing party, the Republicans trying to destroy the social-insurance system, the Democrats trying to destroy the private economy and put everyone on the government payroll or welfare or at least on disability.

Neither Senate candidate has shown any capacity for original thought; indeed, behind her money, campaign consultants, and ad agency, it's not clear whether McMahon even exists. At least she doesn't exist anywhere near someone who might ask a critical question.

No, it's more fun to deal with the candidates' personal histories.

McMahon is responsible for the campaign's direction on account of her relentless television and radio commercials and mailings attacking Murphy, which range from distortion to the trivial - from Murphy's skipping committee hearings that most congressmen skip to his having been late with mortgage, rent, and tax payments years ago.

Murphy's ads have replied weakly with complaints about the failure of the wrestling exhibition company McMahon founded and used to run, WWE, to provide benefits to some wrestlers.

McMahon's ads have added that, because of her great wealth, she can't be bought. That is, she is the one doing the buying - first the Republican nomination and now the election.

When McMahon's attacks on Murphy over what were merely late payments began to look spectacularly hypocritical in light of her own million-dollar bankruptcy in 1976, details of which were disclosed last week by J.C. Reindl of The Day of New London, McMahon announced that she would repay her creditors with interest, perhaps $3 million altogether. Somehow she had spent more than $60 million on her Senate campaigns over the last two years before remembering the dozens of people she stiffed 36 years ago.

Just hours after thanking The Day's reporter for locating the records of her bankruptcy, McMahon's campaign got another call from him about other records he had just dug up - records of her own tax delinquency, her failure to pay the most recent six-month property tax bill of $27,000 on her $4 million penthouse in the Trump Park tower in Stamford. McMahon's campaign insisted that she had never gotten the bill, which indeed was the most plausible explanation for someone who had been gloating about the old financial difficulties of a political rival and who had just come up with $3 million to solve her own embarrassing political problem.

But then the most plausible explanation for Murphy's own tax delinquencies years ago is not the one advanced by the McMahon campaign - the sense of entitlement of a "career politician" - but rather the financial strain that falls on many people of ordinary means who attempt political life in Connecticut.

That is, Murphy was juggling his job as a state legislator with work as a lawyer, his legislative job paying only $30,000 per year for essentially full-time work. Back in the good old days Hartford's insurance companies and banks would give state legislators employment resembling no-show jobs. But since then the inability to earn a living capable of supporting a family has driven many state legislators out of politics - and some even into financial ruin and divorce when they just couldn't bring themselves to give up the game.

Murphy, especially ambitious politically, almost became one of those financially ruined legislators but was rescued by his longshot election to Congress over a Republican incumbent in 2006, whereupon he achieved a salary of $174,000 and paying bills on time ceased to be a problem for him. But even now Murphy is far from being able to write checks for $3 million or even $27,000 in an instant to cover his tracks. The contrast is enough to make a "career politician" look like a regular guy.

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