When nastiness supersedes substance

A quick quiz:

What is Chris Murphy's position on gun control?

How about Linda McMahon's views on health care?

Pro-choice or pro-life? Tax reform? Offshore oil drilling?

Pick your topic, despite nearly 'round-the-clock campaign commercials, chances are most voters don't have a clue about either U.S. Senate candidate's opinion on major issues - but they do know each has called the other a liar, a cheat and worse.

Last week Mr. Murphy, a Democratic congressman, tried to take the high road by challenging his Republican opponent to stick to more substantive matters. But then he reverted to form, telling the Associated Press, "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 while the ad was on TV, she hadn't paid $26,000 in taxes she owed in Stamford."

For her part, Mrs. McMahon and her followers have been relentless in their personal attacks.

"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," said Corry Bliss, Mrs. McMahon's campaign manager.

To be sure, questions about both candidates' finances are legitimate issues in the campaign.

It's entirely fair for Mr. Murphy to criticize his opponent, the wealthy former CEO of the WWE, for failing to repay her creditors from an old bankruptcy until after Day Staff Writer JC Reindel reported on the matter two weeks ago.

Mrs. McMahon also is within her rights to draw attention to the fact that Mr. Murphy, now a U.S. congressman, faced eviction and foreclosure over late rent and mortgage payments. In addition, Mrs. McMahon has filed an ethics complaint with the U.S. House claiming Mr. Murphy used his office to obtain a favorable credit line after defaulting on his mortgage, but that matter won't be taken up until after the election.

Unfortunately, these issues have so dominated the newspaper columns and airwaves that few other topics find their way to voters' eyes and ears.

Admittedly, some of this fault may lie with reporters, editors and news directors who know they're getting a "better" story when candidates revert to name calling rather than offer thoughtful, insightful comments on various issues.

And for all the complaints about negative campaign ads, most political experts agree that candidates run them for one simple reason: They work.

But at some stage voters must reach a tipping point and say, "Enough is enough."

This newspaper believes we have reached that point.

We realize that neither Mr. Murphy nor Mrs. McMahon will ever be Facebook - or real-life - friends, but it's time that both candidates ease up on personal attacks and stick to issues affecting voters: jobs, the deficit, military spending, education, immigration, Social Security, Medicare, and so on.

We are somewhat encouraged that late last week the candidates focused on Social Security and Medicare, after Mr. Murphy told a group of senior citizens in Hartford he suspects Mrs. McMahon wants to "phase out" Social Security. Mrs. McMahon then accused Mr. Murphy of misrepresenting her views, and the two were back to trading accusations.

Based on the contentiousness and the closeness of the race - polls show it at a statistical dead heat - the one-hour debate between Mr. Murphy and Mrs. McMahon at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at The Garde Arts Center in New London, organized by The Day, should be lively. The event is free and open to the public and will be telecast live on WTNH sister station MYTV9 and streamed on both theday.com and WTNH.com.

We hope the session also will be illuminating.

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