Candidates pitch views to Tea Party supporters in Waterford

Waterford — The Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and the Republican and Libertarian candidates in the 2nd Congressional District defended their commitment to the U.S. Constitution and opposition to higher taxes, larger debt, bigger government and "Obamacare" on Friday night at a Tea Party-hosted forum.

Along with all five GOP Senate candidates, the Republican and Libertarian vying to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney in November participated in the event, which was sponsored by the 2nd District Tea Party Patriots and held in Waterford Town Hall before an audience of about 80.

The hour-long, question-and-answer session had one ground rule: no negativity toward a fellow GOP candidate.

"We hear that all the time, and we don't want to hear it here," said Tea Party organizer Jen Ezzell.

The Democratic president, of course, was fair game all evening.

"I think President Obama is the best advertisement we have for why we need to change officeholders in Washington," said congressional candidate Daria Novak of Madison. "Every time he opens his mouth, he starts to sound more and more like a dictator."

The first question of the night was straight from civics class: Explain the three branches of government and their roles.

While everyone aced this quiz, the general consensus was that Obama could use a refresher course.

"I think quite often, the president does go around these branches," said Senate candidate Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive. "Some things can be done by executive order, but I mean goodness, the number of executive orders that have come down are way too many. I think it's an abuse of power."

The Senate hopefuls were asked their views on a senator's constitutional role and duty. As part of her answer, McMahon invoked George Washington's famous "saucer" remark to Thomas Jefferson to explain how the Senate is the more deliberative body of the two legislative chambers.

"The senate is kind of that saucer that cools the soup," McMahon said.

Former Congressman Chris Shays vowed that if elected, he will rise and demand that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., bring forward a majority budget proposal.

"What would happen is one of my colleagues would put his hand on my shoulder and say, 'You know Chris, we don't do it that way in the Senate. We're a more reflective and contemplative body, and you're not making friends.' And I would say — 'I do not care.'"

"The primary responsibility of the House and Senate is to pass a budget so your government can operate," Shays continued. "A sensible budget, not an expensive budget."

Shays' answers to the yes-no round of Tea Party questions were sometimes to the left of the other candidates at the table.

With McMahon and everyone else a "no" on the idea of cap-and-trade legislation, Shays said, "It's Reagan's proposal. It's a yes."

On his support of federal bailouts, he replied that "I did, but I don't want to be in that position again." And on the question of union organizing "card check" legislation, "I supported it, I would not support it again," Shays said.

State Rep. Chris Coutu of Norwich, the third Republican running to unseat Courtney, remains out of state on Army National Guard training until Tuesday. Campaign supporter Kathy Prieto of Killingworth gave his closing statement Friday night.

"Chris Coutu is a strong conservative who not only talks the talk … he actually walks the walk," she said. "He was the only one who voted against that Malloy stimulus plan, and it takes courage to do something like that."

This year's state Republican Party convention is May 18.

j.reindl@theday.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to two Republican candidates for Congress being present. One of them, Dan Reale, is a Libertarian.

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