In a Patch Blue Nutmeg and Red Nutmeg survey of Connecticut political insiders the day after the second debate between U.S. Senate candidates Linda McMahon, a Republican, and Democrat Chris Murphy, respondents overwhelmingly backed their party’s candidate. But some called for an end to the negative campaigning that has defined the race.
All 16 of the Democrats who participated in the Blue Nutmeg survey thought Chris Murphy should be declared the victor in the debate, which was hosted by the University of Connecticut at the Jorgensen Center on the Storrs campus. Eleven Democrats thought Murphy had won by “a wide margin.” All nine Republicans thought Linda McMahon won, five of them saying she took it by a wide margin.
It comes as no surprise that Connecticut Democrats and Republicans would line up according to party affiliation, especially in a political season that has seen its share of fierce partisanship. Indeed, the tone of many of the candidates’ answers during the debate echoed their television ads: aggressive and sometimes dismissive.
One respondent seemed thoroughly disheartened.
“The Murphy and McMahon campaigns are nasty. Does negative campaigning work? Studies have shown yes, it does. But nasty campaigning is a different story,” one respondent said. “… This campaign is a character attack and, in complete honesty, is disheartening. … What happened to campaigns worthy of the voter and worthy of voters’ dignity?”
Both candidates, respondents thought, focused more on tearing the other candidate down than touting their own positions.
“We need issues discussion broadened,” a Republican lamented about the debate.
“Linda McMahon (just) parroted her TV ads,” a Democrat said.
Democrats said Murphy needed to “keep to the issues,” but several pointed to the economy and health care as two areas where they thought he outpointed McMahon. Republicans, too, thought McMahon needed to stick to the issues (“Linda needs to focus more on her accomplishments and ignore Murphy’s snide remarks”) but thought she excelled at explaining her positions on taxes and job creation.
“Was it just me or did it seem like for two or three answers each of the candidates told the other candidate to talk about the issues?” one respondent said. “So, in effect, they are talking about talking about the issues but are not ACTUALLY talking about the issues.”
Several respondents expressed disdain for the way both campaigns have chosen to conduct themselves throughout this election season, and some pointed to the high-stakes reward of a Senate seat as the main reason for the increasingly divisive tone.
“Murphy and McMahon are doing this because they know what’s on the line. They know that somewhere in upwards of 85% of the incumbents who run in the Senate are re-elected,” one Democrat said. “They know that once one of them gets this seat, there is an overwhelmingly high probability that they can keep it as long as they want.”
Although some respondents chose to focus on familiar themes (“Murphy is an idiot,” said one; “McMahon is trying to buy the election,” said another), many either somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that their candidate’s performance in the debate would help their chances to be elected in what is sure to be a tight race.
The next Murphy-McMahon debate is Monday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in New London at the Garde Arts Center. The pair will meet for the final time Oct. 18 in Hartford.