Challenger on attack in Democratic debate for U.S. Senate seat

Hartford -- Merrick Alpert ripped into his rival for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in the first debate of the primary campaign.
In an hour-long forum, Alpert returned again and again to his central charge against Blumenthal, who has served as attorney general for nearly 20 years and remains one of the most popular politicians in the state.

The attorney general, said Alpert, is prone to "incrementalism," litigious to a fault, and too much of a "career politician" to deliver the massive reforms needed in Washington.

Blumenthal countered those jibes with repeated pledges to continue his efforts to rein in financial industry malfeasance, contest denials of care by health insurers and overhaul energy policy to help Connecticut residents and businesses, the causes he says have been central to his tenure as attorney general.

Focus in the 2010 Senate race has centered on the Republican field since Sen. Christopher Dodd announced he would not seek reelection after months of gloomy poll numbers. But in small gatherings, and now on live television, the Democratic race is showing its own spark.
Alpert, out-gunned in poll numbers, name recognition and goodwill in the party, was on the attack throughout the debate, which was sponsored by the Hartford Courant and the University of Hartford, where it was held.

"Lawsuits don't create jobs, entrepreneurs do," the Mystic businessman said to Blumenthal, in arguing that a relaxation of regulation to "get government off the back of business" in order to reverse job losses.

That charge echoes longstanding Republican complaints that Blumenthal and his staff have been too aggressive in bringing legal actions against businesses in the state.

Blumenthal retorted that his legal efforts have allowed for greater competition among businesses and also altered some of the factors that have damaged job growth in Connecticut, particularly his efforts to fight rising electricity costs.

"We have helped, not hurt business in this state," Blumenthal said.
But the argument returned again and again to questions of boldness. Blumenthal's support for health care reform was insufficiently aggressive, charged Alpert, who said he favored opening the Medicare program to every citizen, a radical reshaping of the status quo. While Blumenthal said he would support efforts to reform financial practices, including dividing brokerage from consumer banking functions, Alpert said the Congress should reinstate in full the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed under heavy lobbying from banking interests in 1999 and enabled investment and consumer banks to merge.

On a question near the end of the debate on policy toward Cuba, the charge of "incrementalism" reared its head again.

Both candidates said they favored moving the country toward open diplomatic relations with the nation after decades of embargo and hostility.

That, said Blumenthal, "will be a demanding and painstaking process," and will require consultation with Cuban-Americans about their willingness to accept renewed relations between the nations.

"We should listen to them," Blumenthal said.

Alpert pounced.

If anyone "wanted to hear the dangers of incrementalism, it was that answer," the challenger said. "We should immediately normalize relations with Cuba. ... It's a failed policy."

On rebuttal, Blumenthal said he believed that such painstaking negotiations could happen quickly, even within the next several years.
That wasn't fast enough for his opponent.

"I would vote to do it tonight," Alpert said. "Why wait?"

The Republican candidates, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, and financier Peter Schiff, will debate Tuesday night at the University of Hartford.

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