Published September 25. 2012 1:30PM Updated September 26. 2012 5:01PM
Hartford – U.S. Senate hopeful Chris Murphy today accused his Republican opponent Linda McMahon of relying on personal attacks against him to distract voters from her positions on issues and support for "radical right-wing leadership in the Senate."
"This is Linda McMahon's entire campaign," Murphy, 39, a Democrat and current 5th Congressional District representative, said at a midday campaign rally in a park outside the Capitol.
"She's trying to pull one over on the people of this state, trying to blind people with personal, vicious attacks -- all untrue -- against me and my family so that they don't pay any attention to the right-wing agenda that she stands for," Murphy said.
Murphy's campaign had been on defense for weeks following a series of disclosures about his troubles meeting personal financial obligations during his time as a state legislator in the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, including missed car, rent and mortgage payments.
Murphy eventually paid all the overdue bills, although not before a bank briefly initiated foreclosure proceedings against him in early 2007.
McMahon is running television and print ads suggesting that the congressman, with his checkered financial past, obtained preferential treatment from Webster Bank when it gave him a home equity line of credit in 2008. He and the bank deny the allegation.
Opinion polls show the two candidates in a statistical dead heat.
More recently, Murphy's campaign has seized on reports that McMahon and her husband, Vince, were a month-and-a-half late this month on a property tax bill for their $4.1 million penthouse at a luxury high-rise in Stamford.
Murphy also criticized the former WWE executive for having not paid old creditors from her and her husband's nearly $1 million personal bankruptcy in 1976 until the case's files were made public last week by The Day.
"Linda McMahon's hypocrisy is stunning," Murphy said at today's rally. "During the exact period of time that she's running ads lying about my financial history, she wasn't paying her own taxes in Stamford – literally as the ad was running on TV."
Murphy said repeatedly that voters want a Senate race focused more on issues than the candidates' personal finances or attacks. "When I'm going door to door and I'm out there at town fairs and festivals, people are asking questions about when this campaign is going to be about the issues," he said.
McMahon's campaign manager, Corry Bliss, later issued a formal response to Murphy's rally that called Murphy a hypocrite in calling for an issues-focused campaign.
"Chris Murphy clearly doesn't want to acknowledge it, but the fact that he is a corrupt, career politician in full cover-up mode has become one of the biggest issues of this campaign," Bliss said.
He criticized Murphy for sidestepping questions on why he missed bill payments, as well as his decision to not release documents such as past credit scores that might clear up questions regarding his relationship with Webster Bank.
Murphy was joined Tuesday by more than 60 supporters, including members of a carpenters' union.
He said McMahon's positions are counter to what state voters want, including "another round of tax cuts for millionaires" and her stated support for the Blunt amendment. The Blunt amendment is a Republican proposal to allow employers with moral objections to opt out of providing workers certain coverage in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, such as birth control.
"She is so badly out of step with Connecticut," Murphy said. "She supports a radical right-wing leadership in the Senate that would strip education and job training and housing funding from Connecticut. If we're talking about the issues, Linda McMahon loses this campaign."
McMahon has said she supports full access to contraception and is pro-choice on abortion rights. She supports the Blunt amendment because "it was about religious freedom, over-regulation of businesses and the government imposing its will on individual citizens," she said.
In her new TV spot, McMahon responds to the latest Murphy attack ad that shows black-and-white footage of six Connecticut women denouncing her for supporting the Blunt amendment and having "demeaned" women during her years running WWE.
"Chris take a look – I am a woman, a pro-choice woman," McMahon says in her ad. "My company offered excellent health benefits that included mammograms and access to birth control. It's absurd to claim I'd vote differently. Murphy's had a tough few weeks, but this is really sad."
McMahon signs off in the ad as "an independent-minded woman."
Yet Murphy says that McMahon's likely actions as senator would differ from her campaign speech.
"Linda McMahon has a very different vision for women's health care," Murphy said. "She might be telling people over the course of this campaign that she's pro-choice, but her election would virtually assure that the United States Senate would be run by right-wing leadership that will work every day to overturn Roe vs. Wade and criminalize a woman's right to choose."
A group of about 20 McMahon volunteers and a few paid staffers showed up at Murphy's rally with hand-drawn anti-Murphy placards. There were no visible conflicts or exchanges between the competing groups.
Bliss, McMahon's campaign manager, later faulted Murphy for having "failed to release a jobs plan to address the top issue on the minds of Connecticut voters: jobs and the economy."
McMahon has issued a six-point plan with middle-class and upper-income tax cuts and regulation rollbacks to spur the economy and create jobs.
Murphy has dismissed the plan as a consultant-bought campaign prop that wouldn't pass in gridlocked Washington.