SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — In the final weeks of Connecticut's closely watched U.S. Senate race, Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy see female voters as key to winning the open seat in the tight contest.
On Tuesday, both made appeals to women. Murphy held a rally in Hartford with three female U.S. senators while McMahon launched two new TV ads accusing Murphy of paying his female congressional staff less than the men.
Recent polls show Murphy, the 5th Congressional District representative, has the edge among women. But McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, has devoted more than a year making in-roads with this constituency, following her 2010 Senate loss to Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who received three out of every five votes from women.
McMahon and Murphy are vying for the seat now held by independent U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is retiring. The race is seen as crucial in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
McMahon has insisted that as a woman, mother and grandmother, she supports women's health care issues. But she also has said repeatedly that the top issue for women she meets is the economy and that they welcome electing a successful businesswoman who has a six-point plan to boost the economy and increase jobs.
Since last year, McMahon has met with women business owners across the state and chatted with women in their living rooms during "Conversations with Linda," managing to generate more support from this constituency since 2010. If elected, McMahon would be Connecticut's first female U.S. senator, a fact she often points out on the campaign trail.
Kathy McShane, who heads up the "Women for Linda" Coalition, said there was a misimpression two years ago that McMahon was "very harsh and very corporate and perhaps not in touch with everyday people." McShane said once women get to know McMahon, they like her.
"Frankly, I've had events where I've had a ton of Democratic women who came in ... their arms folded and really didn't want to see her, but came because I asked-them-to-come-type of thing and turn around and said, 'You know what? I'm going to vote for her,'" McShane said.
But Murphy has accused McMahon of overseeing programming he says was demeaning to women while CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, now WWE, and has questioned her abortion rights and pro-women credentials.
"You aren't pro-choice just because you know how to say the words pro-choice, right? You're pro-choice because you stand up for the issues that back up women across this state," he said Tuesday, accusing McMahon of potentially supporting Supreme Court justices that will strike down the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe vs. Wade.
Jennifer Necci Dineen, director of the University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll, said one difference between the 2010 and 2012 Senate races was that female voters who oppose McMahon are concerned more about the issues than McMahon personally.
"I think that not just Linda McMahon, but the Republican Party in general, is maybe not coming out on the side of those issues that are attracting women voters," she said.
Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz said it has made sense for McMahon to improve her standing with women, who tend to vote for Democrats more often than Republicans.
"The Republicans know that in order to stay alive they need to do better among women. It's what's given President Obama his edge in Connecticut. In order for a Republican to have a chance, they know they need to do better among women and cut down that margin and at least within single digits," he said. "Not that they have to win women, but they have to keep it close. (McMahon) has been and that's why the race is so close."
McMahon's campaign released two TV ads Tuesday, taking Murphy to task for allegedly accusing McMahon of being "anti-woman." In a new charge, the campaign says congressional pay records show Murphy has paid female staffers in his office 50 percent less than male staffers.
Murphy campaign spokesman Eli Zupnick said in Murphy's office "employees receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender." He called McMahon's claim another "wildly inaccurate political attack."
Meanwhile, Murphy and his supporters were trying to convince female voters that he is the better pick for them.
At Tuesday's rally, U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire urged the crowd to back Murphy over McMahon.
"Linda proves the point that just because you wear lipstick and high heels doesn't necessarily make you a woman's rights advocate," said Mikulski. "You know, against Blumenthal, she ran as Darth Vader. And now she's invented herself somewhere between Ann Romney and Oprah, but we know the real Linda McMahon."