McMahon Tacks to the Middle, Shays Moves to the Right in GOP US Senate Debate

Note: I’ll be appearing on NBC-Connecticut with Yvonne Nava and Brad Drazen both tomorrow and Weds. morning.  There are a number of Republican presidential primaries tomorrow including Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island.  Tune in if you can.


So you thought you knew the general political camp in which Linda McMahon and Chris Shays lived. McMahon is the conservative and Shays is the moderate former congressman who often bucked his own party. Well, the two best-known Republican candidates for US Senate must have figured they had their respective constituencies locked up because in Sunday’s debate on WFSB’s “Face the State” they each moved the opposite way.

There was no clear winner in the Channel 3 forum which also included Peter Lumaj, Kie Westby and Brian K. Hill. However, the movement of McMahon and Shays was the real story. McMahon—the Greenwich multimillionaire wrestling magnate who prides herself on being a conservative, job-creating businesswoman—moved to the middle almost immediately. In the initial question about compromise, McMahon said she would be a consensus-builder who “will work with Senator Blumenthal.” That would be Democrat Richard Blumenthal who beat McMahon by 12 points for an open US Senate seat two years ago.

McMahon didn’t stop there. She said she would push for tax cuts “starting with the middle class”—a very Obama-like position. Shays jumped on that saying, McMahon “sounds like a Democrat.” McMahon, of course, doesn’t count her money, she weighs it.

Shays, meanwhile, tried to tout his conservative bona fides. On tax cuts, he said he’s “not into class warfare”—a familiar refrain of conservatives. He also said he “would balance the [federal] budget in six years.” (we’ll leave alone for now the fact that no one US Senator can balance the budget.) He claimed he wanted to drop the corporate tax to zero percent in six years. He scolded McMahon for “opposing tax cuts for people at [McMahon’s] income level.” He said English should be the official language of the country. All of these are boilerplate conservative positions.

Shays also questioned McMahon conservative credentials saying, “She’s not a fiscal conservative,” because she spent $50 million of her own money in losing to Blumenthal. And “she’s not a social conservative” or she wouldn’t have been in the wrestling business.

Some other takeaways from the debate:
• Shays repeatedly reminded viewers that he sees himself as the only Republican who can win the general election. The most recent polls support that notion. And the GOP establishment also believes it.

• Candidate Peter Lumaj channeled his inner Lee Whitnum by called McMahon an “empty suit,” characterized Shays as an “opportunist who only came back to Connecticut to run” (Shays lived in Maryland for years after losing his congressional seat) and that Shays “doesn’t have the backbone to run as a conservative.” Ouch.

• McMahon and Shays clearly believe the Democratic nominee will be US Rep. Chris Murphy, each invoking his name as the person they’d have to face.

• Panelist Mark Pazniokas, a reporter with a fine reputation, for some reason thought it was necessary to make his questions longer than some of the answers.

• Other observers sang the praises of Hartford lawyer Brian K. Hill’s performance. Sorry, The Shad didn’t hear anything particularly impressive from him but obviously, it’s the hip thing to write.

All in all, it was an entertaining debate that featured the sharp barbs between McMahon and Shays—a battle that will only get tougher as we move ahead.

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