Debates spark debate

Hartford — The rival U.S. Senate campaigns of Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy spent much of Thursday embroiled in debate over scheduling debates, yet couldn't agree on a date for southeastern Connecticut.

Murphy, the 5th Congressional District representative, says he is ready for eight one-on-one debates before the Nov. 6 election.

He proposed holding the first debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and his campaign announced Thursday afternoon that it had reserved space at three possible venues: New London High School, Stamford Center for the Arts or the Polish National Home in Hartford.

"We went ahead and did all the legwork," Murphy's campaign spokesman, Ben Marter, said. "We lined up time and venues, including New London, so let's do it."

Meanwhile, the Republican's camp announced that McMahon is open to four debates but balked at having one so early.

Her campaign spokesman previously said that a debate Tuesday wouldn't be possible, as it takes time to organize logistics, such as reserving the venue, getting a moderator and setting up television equipment.

But when told Thursday that Murphy already had secured the venues, the spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, offered a different reason why it can't happen next week: "U.S. Senate races do not schedule debates in such a haphazard manner. We are not running for junior class president here."

McMahon did agree to The Day's proposal for an Oct. 3 debate at the Garde Arts Center in New London, to be jointly sponsored with WTNH-TV Channel 8. That debate was to focus on jobs and economic issues, particularly as related to Electric Boat in Groton, where each campaign sees a weakness in its opponent's background.

McMahon's campaign quickly announced Thursday morning that it was ready for the Garde debate. But the proposal had yet to be run by the Murphy campaign. And it turned out that Murphy couldn't make that date, as the House would then be in session.

Murphy also couldn't make a proposed Sept. 30 debate on WFSB-TV's Face the State with Dennis House because of a family commitment, his campaign said.

So by day's end, the only debate both campaigns could agree on will happen Oct. 11 at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

Murphy's campaign questioned whether McMahon is refusing to do early debates because she needs a full month for "her handlers and consultants to tell her what to say." She must "stop hiding."

"It's clear that Linda McMahon isn't ready to debate Chris on jobs," Marter said.

McMahon isn't hiding from anything, her campaign said.

"They're going to be on live television!" Murtaugh said. "What does he propose, to arm-wrestle next?"

The debate challenge surfaced Wednesday as McMahon criticized Murphy for twice voting against defense spending bills containing funding for two-per-year sub production at EB. He in turn criticized her for a gaffe outside the EB gates in June, when McMahon showed incomplete knowledge of the process for deciding military base closures.

Murphy has said he voted against the $600 billion-plus defense spending bills because they contained "open-ended funding" for military activities in Afghanistan.

j.reindl@theday.com

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