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U.S. Senate hopeful Chris Murphy and a tag team of fellow Democratic heavyweights visited a Norwich nursing home Wednesday to pounce on his Republican opponent, Linda McMahon, for a remark she once made suggesting a future phase-out of Social Security.
To his left stood U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and to his right was state Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia, the eldest member of the state's General Assembly at age 86.
"Don't you dare ever vote for anybody who's going to destroy Medicare or Social Security," Prague told the mostly senior audience of about 35 men and women at Regency Heights Health Care in Norwich. "You're gonna vote for people who care about us, like these two gentlemen."
The trio pummeled McMahon for a remark she made in April during a candidates' forum in Waterford hosted by the 2nd District Tea Party Patriots.
At that event, in answer to a question about the future of Social Security, McMahon said as part of her response: "I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation, so that you take a look at it 10, 15 years down the road to make sure that it's still going to fund itself."
Since a video of her remarks surfaced last week, McMahon has clarified her position, saying she has no plan or desire to end Social Security and instead is open to bipartisan reform efforts that wouldn't affect current recipients' benefits.
But the Democrats said they are taking McMahon on her earlier word. Blumenthal said he found McMahon's "sunset" comments so perplexing he had to write her statement out by hand, which he read to the group.
"I would never vote for someone who wants to sunset Social Security," said Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon in the 2010 Senate race. "Sunset means phase-out, end, eliminate. Social Security should be strengthened and enhanced and we should take pride in it."
Blumenthal and Murphy vowed to work together in Washington to defend Social Security and Medicare from any Republican effort to cut or privatize the programs.
"I want people to know the differences between me and my opponent on this issue," Murphy said. "I'm going to stand strong to protect Social Security. I'm not going to entertain any proposals to end it."
That message and warning appeared to resonate with their audience.
"I don't know what I'd do without Social Security," said Gloria Trombley, 70, of Norwich.
Later on Wednesday, McMahon accused the Democrats of lying about her true position on Social Security during a dinner and campaign rally at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa in Groton.
"Congressman Murphy has some rumors going around," McMahon told the crowd of more than 300 supporters. "I will not support any budget that will reduce (Social Security) funding and will reduce your benefits that you are getting because you've worked for it, you've earned it, you're counting on it, and you're going to continue to get it under any budget that I support, and that's my promise."
She continued, "My goal is to make sure that Social Security and Medicare is going to be there for generations to come. And we're going to have to do some reforms to do that, but we are not going to touch any of the benefits for those of you who are receiving it today."
McMahon went on to claim that Murphy is the real threat to Medicare, citing his vote for $716 billion in Medicare spending reductions as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. However, those cost savings are largely to be achieved by reducing payments to insurers and hospitals, which Democrats contend would not cut benefits.
She pivoted from defense to offense, pointing to a research finding by her campaign that Murphy, the current 5th Congressional District representative, has missed 74 percent of his committee meetings since being sworn in in January 2007.
"I don't know about you, but if I hadn't shown up 75 percent of the time and somebody was paying me $170,000 - by the way, we're paying him $170,000 - and he didn't show up for work, in the private sector, at least in my company, he'd have been fired," said McMahon, a former WWE executive.
A Murphy campaign spokesman Wednesday night accused McMahon of trying to distract voters from her "moment of honesty just a few months ago that she would 'sunset' Social Security."
The Murphy campaign contends that McMahon miscalculated the candidate's attendance record.
Former Congressman Rob Simmons of Stonington also spoke at McMahon's rally, his second major public appearance with McMahon since losing to her in a three-way 2010 Republican Senate primary.
"It is my hope that when Linda McMahon goes to Washington, D.C., next year, she will apply her business good sense to getting a budget through the Senate, which the Democrats have not had for 3½ years, and that's a disgrace," he said.