McMahon, Murphy campaigns focus on women in closing weeks

With less than a month to go in a race that every poll shows will be neck and neck, both Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy have focused on a key voting block they hope can push them over the top … women.

In their race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), both sides have been heavily courting the women’s vote for months. But now that the end of the race is in sight, those efforts are increasing. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Ms. McMahon with a one-point lead over Mr. Murphy by a 48%-47% margin, with strong support for her from men and registered independent voters.

The poll, which represents a narrowing in the race since Ms. McMahon had a three-point lead in August, does show that Mr. Murphy has solid support among women in the state, leading Ms. McMahon by a 50% to 44% margin. Because of that, Mr. Murphy is working to shore up that base as a path to victory and Ms. McMahon is attempting to break those voters away, making women a very sought-after demographic in the closing weeks.

 

On Monday, the McMahon campaign released a new ad from its Women for Linda coalition, which they list as having 3,200 members. The ad notes Ms. McMahon’s provision of birth control and mammograms to the office staff of World Wrestling Entertainment, where she was CEO until resigning to run for office in 2009, and features several women, including one from Greenwich, speaking about their support for her.

That comes on the heels of last Friday’s endorsement for Ms. McMahon from the Republican Majority for Choice PAC, which praised her as an “independent thinker” who would “fight for the right to choose as well as work for sound prevention and family planning initiatives.”

However, Mr. Murphy has sought to portray Ms. McMahon as someone who will be unable to stand up to the extremist wing of the Republican Party that, since taking the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, has approved several pieces of legislation that roll back abortion rights and de-fund Planned Parenthood, which many low-income women rely upon for health services. Mr. Murphy has argued that Ms. McMahon, if elected, would vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for majority leader, making it possible for similar legislation to be considered in the Senate.

He has particularly focused on the “Blunt Amendment” put forth by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would allow employers such as religious institutions to deny insurance coverage for contraception and other preventive services if they had moral objections to it. Ms. McMahon had previously said she would have “reluctantly supported” it, while also stressing her own personal commitment to being pro-choice. Mr. Murphy has said he would vote against it.

At last Sunday’s debate, Mr. Murphy said it was “unconscionable that a Connecticut representative would stand up for that kind of a right-wing proposal.” Ms. McMahon called it a “myth” that she would be against women’s health and pointed to her record in providing services, including coverage for birth control and preventive care, to her female employees at WWE.

“I absolutely will not do anything that is going to impact women’s health care issues,” Ms. McMahon said on Sunday.

On Monday, McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss blasted Mr. Murphy’s claims in a press release.

“Congressman Murphy continues to distort Linda’s position in a desperate attempt to scare women and distract from the real issues in this race,” Mr. Bliss said. “He refuses to be honest with the voters, instead resorting to false accusations and scare tactics. It is sad he does not realize the biggest concerns facing women today are whether they can find and keep a job and how they will meet the increasing demands on their families’ income.”

During the debate, Mr. Murphy also said he would vote against Supreme Court nominees who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and Ms. McMahon said she did not believe in “litmus tests” for justices.

The Murphy campaign is expected to continue making this a central point of the campaign and has started sending out a new surrogate to talk about his record on abortion rights and on his vote in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — Mr. Murphy’s wife, Cathy Holahan. And last week she brought the campaign to Greenwich, speaking at a private event at the Old Greenwich home of Marge Peterson.

The event had more than a dozen people, mostly women, in attendance, and Ms. Holahan urged them to support her husband because of what he had accomplished in his six years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“As long as I have known Chris and seen him in the Connecticut legislature and the Congress, he has been a very, very strong advocate for women’s rights,” Ms. Holahan said. “The issues he gets involved in always come down to people. He fights for children and women, and I’ve always been impressed by his willingness to put his neck out there and stand for something for populations that need an advocate. He’s consistently done that in the state and in Congress.”

To try and rebut frequently played McMahon ads, Ms. Holahan stressed her husband’s 97% voting record as well as his commitment to ethics, but mostly focused on the issues that were most on the minds of the small but engaged crowd.

“He’s on virtually every piece of legislation that benefits women in terms of education, the economy and health care,” Ms. Holahan said. “He’s been an advocate. He voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and helped pass it, which helped remove some of the barriers women faced to file complaints against their employers for discrimination. When [Ms. McMahon] was asked how she would have voted on that act she refused to give an answer. He has also voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which increases penalties for employers for paying women less for equal work than they do for men, and he’s fought for federal employees to get four weeks’ paid maternity leave.”

When asked by The Post, the McMahon campaign did not specifically say whether it supported the Ledbetter Act, but spokesman Todd Abrajano said, “As a woman and former CEO of a publicly traded company, Linda certainly supports women receiving equal pay for equal work.”

Ms. Holahan also noted Mr. Murphy’s support of the Affordable Care Act, saying people think of “Obamacare” and don’t realize that the law prohibits insurance companies from charging women higher premiums than men just because they’re women and stops them from refusing coverage based on pre-existing conditions like having a C-section or even domestic violence and makes sure there is coverage for contraception and preventive services like mammograms and cervical screenings.

“It’s the Republican agenda to repeal this health care law, and Ms. McMahon has said she’ll do it,” Ms. Holahan said. “That will do away with all these rights women have gotten under it.”

Ms. Peterson is not only someone who had not been particularly involved politically before this campaign but she’s also a registered Republican. However, she made clear in an interview with The Post that she feels Mr. Murphy is the far superior candidate, citing the WWE’s content, which, in an infamous clip the company recently removed from its website, had female wrestler Trish Stratus, as part of a story line, stripping down to her underwear in the middle of the ring and barking like a dog on the order of company owner Vince McMahon.

“A woman who made her fortune having women in a ring barking like dogs is embarrassing,” Ms. Peterson said. “Chris is running on his record and Linda is running from hers.”

Old Greenwich resident Donna Bunte also spoke to The Post at the event and said she would be “embarrassed to have Linda McMahon represent me given how she’s represented women.”

“I’m a strong believer in women’s rights and I have a 15-year-old daughter who needs to have her rights protected,” Ms. Bunte said. “To see the country go in the other direction is frightening. I don’t need to vote for a woman. I need to vote for the right person.”

Ms. McMahon does enjoy strong female support in her strongholds though, particularly in her hometown of Greenwich. State Rep. Livvy Floren has been an advocate for Ms. McMahon since early in her first run for office in 2010 and told The Post that she believes questions about WWE’s content have “run their course” and that people can separate the fantasy of the content from the reality of Ms. McMahon’s positions.

“She is a strong, independent and capable person who happens to be a woman,” Ms. Floren said. “She’s a mother. She’s a grandmother. She’s a daughter. She knows women’s issues, but it doesn’t stop there. She knows everyone’s issues. She’s fair and balanced and a hard worker. She’s someone who rose to the top in business at a time when women weren’t always able to rise that far. That’s a real testament to her ability.”

But there are still many skeptics. During the event, attendee Geena Clonan said that Ms. McMahon’s personal views on abortion wouldn’t matter when she would be voting for Republican Senate leadership that didn’t share them.

“A pro-choice Republican will have no voice at all,” Ms. Clonan said. “That’s just the reality of it. She can be a pro-choice Republican woman but because of the party platform she will not have a voice.”

 

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