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When the two candidates seeking the Democratic Senate nomination face off in a televised debate from The Garde Arts Center on July 30, expect underdog Susan Bysiewicz to try to engage Chris Murphy in a debate about where his campaign money comes from and Murphy to try to move the discussion toward the general election.
Short of Murphy committing some major gaffe, this debate is not likely to influence the outcome of the Aug. 14 primary, with polls showing Murphy holding a big lead. But it could prove interesting for other reasons. The debate will be an opportunity for voters in southeastern Connecticut to see and assess Murphy who, though a third-term congressman from the 5th District in northwest Connecticut, is still relatively unknown in these environs.
(We also tried to get a debate between Republican Senate candidates Chris Shays and Linda McMahon, but McMahon declined our invitation.).
For those who enjoy the political game, it can be interesting to watch a challenger in a primary race maneuver that fine line between attacking the frontrunner while not becoming overly shrill and combative. I suspect that Bysiewicz knows that if she goes after Murphy too hard, and risks damaging the credibility of the party's likely nominee in the process, her own standing within the Democrat Party will suffer additional damage.
But while savage debate attacks by Bysiewicz are unlikely, she will not go quietly, which is why the debate will be worthwhile viewing. Unlike the man they hope to replace, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the policy positions of both Murphy and Bysiewicz are pretty much in line with mainstream Democratic dogma. They want to let the Bush tax cuts expire, but only for the wealthy, not the middle class. They support the Affordable Care Act. Both are more concerned about the economic recovery and jobs than the deficit, and fear drastic domestic spending cuts risk damaging the economy.
This lack of a wedge issue, a clear point on which they differ, is not good news for Bysiewicz as she tries to fight from behind. In an effort to separate herself, the former secretary of the state has tried to characterize Murphy as overly beholden to Wall Street contributors, while arguing she is the candidate who will work to hold the major corporations and big banks accountable. Expect that line of attack to resurface at the debate a week from Monday.
Murphy is indeed raising a lot of money, $5.5 million so far, including $1.2 million in the most recent quarter. Like many Connecticut politicians running for major office, a good chunk of that money has come from financial institutions, insurance companies and investment firms. But rather than a liability, Murphy makes the case that his ability to raise money will be critical if Democrats hope to win the Senate seat against the likely Republican nominee, the deep pocketed McMahon.
And as much as she has tried, it is tough for Bysiewicz to characterize Murphy, a candidate endorsed by such left-wing organizations as the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as being in the pocket of Wall Street.
Bysiewicz has raised about $2.25 million, an impressive figure given her underdog status.
The Garde, The Day and WTNH, which will telecast the debate live and without interruption on sister station MyTV9, are jointly sponsoring the debate. You can also watch it on theday.com. Better yet, come see it live (people need to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. to accommodate preparations for the live telecast.) No tickets are needed, just walk in. Visit theday.com to submit a suggested question.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.