Democratic candidate for US Senate Richard Blumenthal finally found the performance he may have been searching for in this entire campaign as he dominated the debate with his Republican opponent Linda McMahon at The Garde Arts Center in New London. Blumenthal was confident, well-prepared and quick on his feet while McMahon was on the defensive all night in a debate that was plagued with an out-of-control audience and a moderator embarrassingly misspeaking, losing track of the time and constantly “shushing” the audience.

Blumenthal had the moment of the night—perhaps the moment of the campaign—when, as McMahon finished hammering him again on being a career politician and moderator Ann Nyberg trying to move on, Blumenthal insisted on using some of his remaining time to tick off his support of efforts to ensure health coverage for children, to stop pre-existing conditions from dropping people from coverage and being a fighter for Connecticut residents in general. The exchange showed Blumenthal had fire, strength and conviction that seemed to be missing from his campaign to date.

McMahon’s problems were nearly too many to list but I’ll try:
• In an exchange about the minimum wage and tax issues, McMahon admitted that she would support the Bush-era tax cuts only if all taxpayers were included—even the wealthiest Americans. In other words, she’d sacrifice a break for the middle class if the wealthy weren’t included.
• McMahon said her reluctance to discuss Social Security and Medicare on the campaign trail was because to do so might mean she wouldn’t be elected. Ouch. She said candidates discussing those entitlement programs, the “third rail” of politics as she called it, might mean those candidates “won’t get in office.”
• When asked about how she could support the portrayal of women in the WWE (the question, sent in via email, contained the words “degradation” and “humiliation”), McMahon didn’t answer the question and just said she was proud of her companies. It had to be better than the answer she gave ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” last Sunday when she said the women in the wrestling ring were “really powerful women.”
• McMahon never answered charges about whether she thought steroid abuse posed a long-term health problem or about wrestlers’ contracts containing “death clauses” indemnifying the company from lawsuits.
• Looking desperate, McMahon’s closing statement sounded like an attempt to throw everything against the Blumenthal wall, hoping something would stick: Vietnam, fundraisers, life-long public service, etc.

About Blumenthal’s performance:
• He appeared better prepared than in the last debate at the Bushnell in Hartford.
• Bringing up several issues (wrestler deaths, steroid use, purchasing of WWE products manufactured overseas, taking of tax credits while laying off workers), Blumenthal kept McMahon on the defensive about her calling card—her business experience.
• Showing some fire, Blumenthal refused to be silenced, insisting on using his time when he wanted and saying he “wouldn’t be lectured to” by McMahon.
• The hard-fighting, intelligent, and ready-to-be-senator Blumenthal showed up at The Garde, not the stiff, fumbling, square-jawed bureaucrat he can sometime appear to be.

The debate itself, sponsored by News Channel 8 (WTNH-TV) and The Day newspaper of New London, was an embarrassment. The crowd, despite being repeatedly asked to remain quiet, frequently interrupted the candidates resulting in Nyberg “shushing” them. Few things are as annoying as someone “sssssssshhhhhhhhh-ing” into a microphone. Nyberg made things worse by at one point, calling McMahon, “Mrs. Blumenthal.” At that point, everyone turned into Shecky Greene with Blumenthal saying, “Mrs. Blumenthal is here [pointing to the audience]” and Channel 8 veteran political reporter Mark Davis saying to the candidates, “You do make a lovely couple.” Ugh.

All in all, Blumenthal, who still leads the race in the polls, may have closed the deal at this debate.