WASHINGTON -- Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon brought in two moderate Republican senators on Saturday for a rally to help win over female voters in her race against Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). But while campaigning for McMahon, one of the lawmakers -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- went off-message and spoke out against the Blunt Amendment, which McMahon backs.
In March, Murkowski joined many of her fellow Republicans and voted for the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed any employer to refuse to cover any kind of health care service by citing "moral reasons." The bill, which ultimately failed, was meant to counter the Obama administration's rule that most employers -- including religiously affiliated organizations -- need to offer health insurance plans that cover birth control. But critics argued it would also roll back some of the basic anti-discrimination protections and allow employers to deny HIV/AIDS screenings or prenatal care for single mothers.
Speaking with the Hartford Courant while in Connecticut for McMahon, Murkowski said she regretted her vote:
It was there [back in Alaska] that I realized how clearly the distinction between the Washington speak and what it is that we think we're talking about back there and how it's being translated back home. Because back home, it was being viewed as a direct attack on women's reproductive rights, on their ability to access contraception. With my history in the state legislature, I have worked to lead on a prescriptive equity bill. I believe very strongly women should have that right to access. ...
The debate in Washington and what we were targeting, I don't think is what was being understood back home. I can't tell you how it was here in Connecticut. I was a public figure who said, I actually regretted that vote.
But McMahon, the former pro-wrestling magnate, said she would have voted for the Blunt Amendment, and it's a point the Murphy campaign has been reminding voters about.
I said I would have reluctantly supported it," McMahon said recently. "This is not a question about contraception. This is about separation of church and state. I just think that was an overreach and an overstep by government."
On Monday, the Murphy campaign released a TV ad called "Demean," which features women criticizing McMahon's support for the Blunt Amendment.
"As Senator, McMahon would support a Republican proposal that would allow my employer to deny me coverage for contraception," says one woman in the ad, with another stating, "Siding with the most extreme Republicans to deny woman health care."
The Murphy campaign also put out a web video highlighting Murkowski's disagreement with McMahon on the issue.
“Even as national Republicans backtrack from unpopular anti-choice legislation, Linda McMahon doubles down on her support for far-right policies to deny birth control and crucial health services to Connecticut women,” said Taylor Lavender, a Murphy campaign spokeswoman. “Members of her own party have spoken out against this anti-choice proposal, but Linda McMahon doesn’t blink when it comes to restricting women’s control of their own health care.”
In response to the latest Murphy attacks, the McMahon campaign said that its candidate is "pro-choice" and accused Murphy of being under the influence of the Washington establishment.
“It’s clear that Congressman Murphy’s D.C.-based rescue committee will do or say anything to destroy Linda McMahon, no matter how ridiculous it looks or sounds,” McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss said in a statement, accusing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee of taking over Murphy's operation. “Congressman Murphy’s new attack ad is completely dishonest and reeks of desperation. He should be ashamed of himself. Congressman Murphy wants to win so badly that it appears he will even pay actors to spread lies about Linda McMahon over Connecticut’s airwaves. Attacking Linda McMahon, a pro-choice woman, as being 'anti-woman' is really the lowest of the low, but at least voters now see who Chris Murphy really is."
Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) campaigned for McMahon on Saturday, along with the state's popular former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. As the Hartford Courant has reported, McMahon struggled to win over female voters in her 2010 bid for the Senate. While she still lags behind Murphy with that key demographic this time, she's been narrowing the gap. According to HuffPost Pollster's average for the overall race, however, McMahon is leading Murphy by more than 6 percentage points.
This post has been updated to include a comment from McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misstated McMahon's 2010 campaign as being for the governorship; it was for Senate.