The five candidates hoping to claim the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the squared off in a debate at the University of Connecticut Monday afternoon.
The event, sponsored by CT-1 Media, saw U.S. Congressman Chris Murphy, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, State Rep. William Tong, Lee Whitnum and Matthew Oakes field questions on everything from their positions on national defense and health care to what they would to improve Connecticut's economy to the last book they read and concert they attended.
Unlike the previous debate, where Whitnum called Murphy a "whore" for the support he has shown toward Israel during his terms in Congress, this time around the candidates seemed to avoid challenging one another too critically over issues and even constantly seemed to go out of their way to remark that they agreed with other candidates on certain issues.
Murphy, the front runner to secure his party's nomination in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, fielded the first question of the day, which pertained to student loan debt. Murphy said he supported extending the current 3.4 percent interest rate on student loans that was set to expire at the end of the year if Congress does not take action. He said if the rates were not extended, college students would see interest rates on loans increase to more than 6 percent, which would severely hinder many students and families ability to afford a college education.
"That could be $5,000 or more out of the pocket of the average student here at UConn," Murphy said of the new interest rates.
Bysiewicz, a Middletown resident, said she was a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature health care legislation that is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and that if the law was struck down by the court steps needed to be taken to approve a similar bill in the future that guaranteed health care access.
"Everyone in America deserves access to quality, affordable health care," Bysiewicz said. "…There are many people who are just one very bad test result away from getting very sick and losing their home or losing all of their financial wealth."
Murphy said that Congress would not be able to just "re-pass" the health care law if the Supreme Court were to overturn it, and at that point it might be time to consider a public option for health care in the United States.
"I'm a huge supporter of the public option," Murphy said.
Oakes, a community activist from Hartford, told the audience that health care disparity was one of the primary reasons he chose to run for the Senate, and recounted several instances in his life where he and members of his family had been failed by the current health care system.
"We need to go back and look at it again. Even if they have to pass another law, everyone should be entitled to health care," Oakes said. "…They need to revisit it if it is deemed unconstitutional."
Oakes also drew the biggest laugh of the afternoon when, during the "lightening round" of questioning, he admitted that the last book he read was a Star Trek novel.
Tong, a State Representative who represents Stamford and New Canaan, said he supported a foreign policy platform that advocated for "global zero," which was a world free of nuclear weapons. He said it was important that the United States did all it could to prevent Iran from constructing a nuclear weapon.
"That starts with Iran," Tong said. "We cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons."
Time and again, Whitnum's policies and platform seemed to circle back to the United States' relationship with Israel. She advocated cutting off foreign aid to the country, said that the Iraq war was waged to placate Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu, implied that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were due to the United States' support of the country, and accused the Israel government of "endless slaughters and injustices" against members of its underclass.
"We must also tell Israel to back down," Whitnum said in response to a question on foreign policy. "They cannot get everything they want."
Afterwards, Murphy said he thought for the most part the debate remained collegial and that candidates did an admirable job of sticking to and addressing the issues they were asked, but singled out Whitnum's continued criticism of Israel as irresponsible and reprehensible.
"What she is suggesting that Israel was somehow involved for September 11 is beyond the pale," Murphy said. "I just think it's important to call her out for the outright lies."
World Wresting Entertainment executive Linda McMahon and former Congressman Christopher Shays and are the leading candidates to secure the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
The Connecticut Democratic nominating convention will be held May 12.