U.S. SENATE: Chris Murphy says he can lead from the center

He may have a big lead in the primary election polls, but U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5th District) says he's taking nothing for granted by thinking ahead to a fall showdown with Republican Linda McMahon.

Mr. Murphy, a three-term incumbent from the state's 5th Congressional District, as well as a former state representative and state senator, insisted he is focused first and foremost on the primary election on Aug. 14 against former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. However, Mr. Murphy, the party-endorsed candidate, not only has a 30-point lead over Ms. Bysiewicz in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll but also has the solid backing of the state's Democratic Party, including Gov. Dannel Malloy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Ms. McMahon, who has a wide lead among Republicans leading up to her primary race against former Congressman Christopher Shays, has closed the gap against Mr. Murphy to only three points.

But Mr. Murphy said he is focused on the primary first, while at the same time not forgetting that a far more difficult race is likely looming.

Economy and jobs

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Murphy said, the economy and jobs will be the dominant issues this year.

"Jobs is the number one, two and three issue right now," he said. "Everybody knows somebody that's out of work, but it's not just the people who are out of work. It's also about the people who are working part-time instead of full-time. It's about the people who have had their hours cut back and haven't gotten a raise in five years. The economy has affected people who are not just unemployed but underemployed."

As a U.S. senator, Mr. Murphy pledged to work on economic growth by getting the federal government to invest in infrastructure, education and science.

"Doing that will help Connecticut more than almost any other state in the nation," Mr. Murphy said. "Connecticut's economic salvation is tied up in transportation. So long as Interstate 95 is a parking lot, Connecticut can't grow. In addition, Connecticut gets 1.6 cents back on every cent we send to the federal government in transportation taxes. When the federal government invests in transportation, it helps a gridlocked state like Connecticut and it also comes at a discount.

"Connecticut is never going to be the cheapest place to manufacture, but we can be the smartest if we invest in education. We grow jobs here not because of the price of labor but because of the quality. So when the federal government invests in education, it plays to Connecticut's strengths."

On investment in science, Mr. Murphy said this is another area where the federal government can help state residents. He said it not only would help the existing bio and pharma industries in Connecticut but also in growing new industry here.

He pointed to his record of achievement in this area, including working with his colleagues in the Connecticut congressional delegation to bring in federal funding for a commuter rail line from Springfield to New Haven that he says "linked the knowledge corridor of the Northeast."

He also looked back to his time as a state legislator, where, he said, he wrote the state's stem cell investment bill, something he claims has resulted in "hundreds, if not thousands" of jobs being created.

As a congressman he's been able to bring money to Connecticut to open the commercial incubator facility in Farmington to help spin off public stem cell research into private companies, he said.

Mr. Murphy added his belief that there are a lot of companies that want to come to Connecticut but can't find the usable, unpolluted commercial and manufacturing space they need in areas like Waterbury, Bridgeport and Norwalk. He worked, he said, to get the state the biggest brownfields remediation grant it had ever received "in almost a generation."

"Our next U.S. senator has to be fighting for government investment in science, education and transportation, not fighting to shrink government so small that it erases the advantages that come to Connecticut through public investment," Mr. Murphy said.

McMahon's plan

It was clear Mr. Murphy does not like Ms. McMahon's much-publicized plan to have a tax cut while also reducing government spending by 1% a year until there is a balanced budget.

"We've tried Linda McMahon's economic plan and we're living the reality of that nightmare," Mr. Murphy said. "When you cut taxes and refuse to invest in basic public services like schools and roads and bridges, you end up with an economy that does very well for the top one or two percent but leaves everybody else behind.

"We need an economic development strategy that invests in broad wealth creation. That involves a fair tax code that makes sure everyone is paying close to the same rate and admitting we have some overdue investments in our country. If we continue to fall behind in school and road construction and science investment, then we're going to get lapped economically around the world," he said.


Corry Bliss, Ms. McMahon's campaign manager, responded with a statement saying, "It's baffling that Congressman Murphy would so openly oppose much needed middle class tax cuts for Connecticut families, which Linda McMahon's jobs plan would do. It's not surprising though, given the fact that Congressman Murphy's jobs plan is still a 'work in progress' despite the fact that he has been in office for more than a decade. The last thing Connecticut voters need is another career politician who spends more time making false accusations about his opponents than he does working to solve the many problems facing our state and nation."

Even though both candidates still have to make it through their respective primary contests, Mr. Murphy said, "Given McMahon's money, it would be a mistake to wait to start the general election on Aug. 15 ... I just think her unique wealth means we have to start organizing for the fall campaign right now."

Record is fair game

The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Ms. McMahon has come under scrutiny for the content of the company that made her a multi-millionaire.

While in recent years WWE has adopted a far more family-friendly tone with a TV-PG rating for its programming, clips from the late 90s and early 2000s have come back to haunt her in this campaign as they feature sexual content and over-the-top violence.

Mr. Murphy indicated he believes bringing up WWE content would be fair game during the campaign, just as his record in the United States Congress will be fair game to Ms. McMahon.

Mr. Murphy said he understands Ms. McMahon would outspend him in this campaign by a "five-to-one or even a 10-to-one rate," but said he can win this race through volunteers and "true believers" in his message.

"McMahon tried to buy this election once and it didn't work, and I don't think she's going to have any more success this time trying to win an election with money instead of ideas," Mr. Murphy said.

Mr. Murphy said there has to be discussion about taxes that isn't just about raising rates, but also about "broader, comprehensive reform."

He said by broadening the tax base, you can add revenue while lowering rates. Mr. Murphy said he believes Americans — and, more specifically, Connecticut corporations — will accept paying a little bit more in corporate tax if it means having a simpler code that doesn't necessitate "employing an army of accountants to avoid."

Need for bipartisanship

Calling for a plan that will "right-size" the federal government without compromising public investment, Mr. Murphy said it can be accomplished through bipartisan work.

He's not ready to give up on the idea of Democrats and Republicans working together for a common goal and points to the Center Aisle Caucus, which he co-chairs. It is made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats who try to find common ground on legislation while promoting civility.

"I've been one of the few people in the House of Representatives who has put my actions where my mouth is when it comes to bipartisanship," Mr. Murphy said. "Every member of Congress says they work across the aisle, but the truth is, very few actually do it. It can be hard to get people to join our group. Most people in the House of Representatives seem content to just yell from one side of the chamber to the other. But in the Senate, to set our country's finances straight, it will have to be written by people who know how to reach across the aisle. I'm one of the few people in the House that's invested time in figuring out ways that Republicans and Democrats can work together, and I'm sure I'm going to be able to bring those skills to the Senate, even as a junior member."

Mr. Murphy said he would support filibuster reform if elected, acknowledging the unprecedented use of the filibuster in recent years by the Republican minority in the Senate that has essentially left every bill needing 60 votes to pass instead of the 51 that used to be needed in a body of 100.

Campaign finance reform

Criticizing the Citizens United decision that let corporations give unlimited money to political campaigns as "the worst Supreme Court decision of my lifetime," Mr. Murphy called for public financing of campaigns.

"I think we have to admit there's a cost to democracy and to elections, and voters would get better government if they all pitched in a small amount of money to help fund congressional elections rather than allowing donors who have political or commercial agendas to drive debate."

In a post-Citizens United world, which is already seeing record spending by political action committees and where spending is expected to go up even more dramatically with the coming presidential election, Mr. Murphy said, he is worried the country "is on the verge of allowing a handful of billionaires and corporations to take control of our democracy."

He said if there can't be public financing, he would want to see a constitutional amendment to bring back a system where candidates have to raise money from publicly disclosed donors instead of the anonymous system now, where one man can keep a presidential campaign going through donations.

Admitting it was not an easy decision to run for the Senate, given the often rancorous partisan wrangling he sees in the House, Mr. Murphy said he is doing it because he wants to be "part of the solution."

"I want to leave a better government for my two kids," Mr. Murphy said. "As hard as it is to be away from them during the week, to walk away when government needs more people committed to reform and bipartisanship would be irresponsible and something I would regret."