Published October 23. 2012 2:00PM Updated October 24. 2012 1:03PM
Hartford — The rival campaigns for U.S. Senate opened new assaults Tuesday in their heated battle for the women's vote.
Three Democratic senators visited Connecticut for a "Women for Murphy" afternoon rally at a park near the state Capitol. The trio was Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the longest-serving woman in Congress.
"Linda proves the point that just because you wear lipstick and high heels doesn't necessarily make you a women's rights advocate," Mikulski, still fiery at 76, told the estimated crowd of 150.
"Against Blumenthal she ran as Darth Vader," Mikulski added. "Now she's reinvented herself somewhere between Ann Romney and Oprah, but we know the real Linda McMahon."
Meanwhile, McMahon, a Republican, unveiled two new television ads to counter Democrats' portrayal of Murphy as the pro-woman candidate in the race.
The campaign ads accuse Murphy of exacerbating the "gender pay gap" by compensating the men in his office about 50 percent more than the women. The TV spots also mention a 2006 episode when Murphy, then a state senator and a chairman of the General Assembly's Public Health Committee, allowed a bill to expire in committee that would have required church-affiliated hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
According to Murphy's campaign, the ads draw unfair conclusions because the congressman has a small pool of office workers and the $144,000 annual salary of his male chief of staff last year skews the averages.
The state bill that concerned church-affiliated hospitals and the morning-after pill passed the legislature and became law the following year, after Murphy left for Congress.
The failed 2006 bill recently was highlighted in a Connecticut Post story that quoted supporters of the legislation who attributed its lack of success that year to bipartisan opposition among Catholics on the public health committee. But some Republicans faulted Murphy for not pushing hard enough.
The Democratic women at Tuesday's rally called McMahon a threat to women's health care and abortion rights. They disputed her self-portrayal as a pro-choice candidate and denounced her desire to "repeal and replace" Obamacare.
They cited her support for the Blunt amendment, a Republican proposal that would have allowed employers with moral objections to deny contraception coverage to employees.
McMahon says she is indeed pro-choice on abortion rights and supports access to birth control.
She describes both her support for the Blunt amendment and her opposition to the state law requiring church-affiliated hospitals to dispense morning-after pills as "about religious freedom, over-regulation of businesses and the government imposing its will on individual citizens."
"I clearly am not in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade," McMahon said this month in response to a question on whether she would confirm a U.S. Supreme Court nominee who might vote to overturn the landmark abortion ruling.
"I would hope that any Supreme Court justice that's brought up for confirmation, there wouldn't be a litmus test on one issue," McMahon said. "Supreme Court justices are going to vote on many issues. I would like to sit down with them, I want to understand what their policies are."
Joining the three out-of-state senators at Tuesday's rally were Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, Connecticut First Lady Cathy Malloy and Susan Bysiewicz, the former secretary of the state who lost to Murphy in this summer's Democratic primary.
"It's not just her — it is her party," DeLauro said of McMahon. Republicans nationwide, DeLauro said, "have been working to push women back into traditional roles and accelerate the race to the bottom."
The two male speakers were Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.,who defeated McMahon in the 2010.
"I want to be able to tell my two sons when they grow up that their wife is going to be able to bring home a paycheck that reflects the value of her work, not her gender," Murphy said. "I want to be able to tell my two sons that if you spend your life making money off of demeaning women, off of exploiting domestic violence, that you don't get rewarded with a seat in the United States Senate."
McMahon's campaign soon fired back and called Murphy a hypocrite.
"Congressman Murphy has failed to stand with victims of rape, instead choosing to advance his political career," Corry Bliss, McMahon's campaign manager, said in a statement.
"(He) used taxpayer money to exacerbate the gender pay gap by paying women 50 percent less than men working in his congressional office."
Murphy dismissed McMahon's counter claims as lies.
Recent opinion polls show the Senate race as a statistical tie or give Murphy a slight lead. Most polls show him leading among likely women voters with McMahon holding an edge with men.
A new Quinnipiac University poll is scheduled for release this morning.