Critical juncture in big Senate race

After a campaign that has been dominated by competing attack ads and arguments over issues that have nothing to do with the lives of Connecticut residents - among them who has a poorer record of not paying their bills - the Senate race between Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy should over the next two weeks move to matters of substance.

Beginning today the two candidates will clash in four debates over just 11 days. This will put to test the knock on Mrs. McMahon that she cannot move past her talking points and into a substantive discussion of the issues. Rep. Murphy will be forced to defend his congressional voting record and respond to some of the blistering attacks coming from the McMahon campaign.

If the public is paying attention, these series of debates could have a significant and potentially decisive impact on a race that is now essentially tied. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed 48 percent of likely voters supporting Mrs. McMahon and 47 percent backing Rep. Murphy. The poll also showed the McMahon campaign's blizzard of political mail attacking her opponent, combined with negative TV and radio spots, has damaged the congressman's reputation. While 45 percent hold a favorable opinion of Mrs. McMahon, only 36 percent now see Rep. Murphy favorably.

In this critical election that will decide who replaces influential Sen. Joe Lieberman and could potentially determine which political party controls the Senate, it is critical that voters depend on more than campaign propaganda to determine their selection. These debates provide the chance for the candidates to be tested on the truly important issues in this campaign - the economy, job creation, the future of health care in America, getting federal spending under control and assuring the long-term viability of the Social Security and Medicare programs.

The candidates have major policy differences. Mrs. McMahon proposes a series of tax cuts that she says will get more money in the hands of business and consumers and get the economy moving, but she has not adequately addressed the spending cuts that would be necessary to allow that approach without driving up the deficit. As part of deficit reduction Rep. Murphy supports increasing taxes on the wealthiest, returning to tax rates charged during the Clinton administration. Mrs. McMahon would repeal the Affordable Care Act, while Rep. Murphy would push to implement it. Neither candidate has proposed policies for controlling entitlement spending.

The first debate is today at 11 a.m. on WFSB Channel 3, a studio event with no public access.

At 7 p.m. on Oct. 11 the candidates will appear at the Jorgenson Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Connecticut. That debate is sponsored by the Hartford Courant and will be televised on Fox 61.

On Oct. 15 The Day, WTNH and the Garde Arts Center will sponsor a debate at the Garde in New London. Doors open at 5:45 p.m. for the 7 p.m. event that will be telecast on MYTV9. The Robinson & Cole law firm is also a sponsor of the debate.

On Oct. 18, the candidates will hold their final debate at the Connecticut Broadcasters Association meeting in Hartford. That debate is not open to the public, but will be broadcast by several TV and radio stations at various times. Check listings.

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