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Democratic Candidates for U.S. Senate Spar at UConn Debate

The candidates shared their views on health care, defense, foreign policy and the economy Monday afternoon in a debate held at the University of Connecticut.

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 on April 9. 

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 pass 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. 

John Maron April 10, 2012 at 07:51 PM
I am always surprised to see candidates talking about trivial issues, and not addressing the wars in the Middle East that are draining our coffers and taking American lives, just to fulfill the wishes of the Israel lobby and big oil. Lee Whitnum, along with Ron Paul, are the only candidates that will address these issues with high priority. Below is the Israel lobby debate at MIT, with Harvard Professor Stephen Walt and U. of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer. http://video.mit.edu/watch/the-israel-lobby-and-us-foreign-policy-4137/ Former AIPAC Israel lobbyist warns about oil companies and the Israel lobby joining to force a US war against Iran http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/06/aipac-from-the-inside-1-isolating-iran.html.
Otto April 11, 2012 at 04:07 AM
Lee you go girl do not back down you speak the truth
David Evans April 11, 2012 at 05:56 AM
There was nothing wrong with Lee Whitnum’s performance, in fact her courage and outspokenness is just what is needed in a House and Senate full of double-speaking equivocators who avoid uncomfortable truth for political expedience! For far too long OUR Representatives have been pandering to and cowed by the Israeli Lobby, sending billions of OUR tax dollars to aid Israel in its numerous war crimes and land theft operations: http://www.alanhart.net/the-best-congress-aipac-can-buy/ http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/mapstellstory.html http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stats/stauffer.html Lee Whitnum, when elected, will cease allowing Israel to continue making enemies for the US, while she, unlike most current US legislators, puts American interests ahead of the interests of a foreign state. She has my vote!
MeMyself April 11, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Whitnum sounds like a total idiot. We now know that then PM Sharon opposed the invasion of Iraq and that Israel never saw Iraq as a threat. Unfortunately Sharon agreed to keep his objections. This has been confirmed by both US and Israeli officials. We have long known about criticisms of the war by Israeli intel and security officials that had been published in the Israeli press. I read these myself. Note that the vast majority of violence in the Mid East is Arab against Arab, Muslim against Muslim, in any one of countless national, political, religious, tribal, family or personal conflicts which have nothing to do with Israel. Blaming Israel is the easy way out. It is also wrong and racist. 9-11 had nothing to do with Israel. While some al-Qaeda allies have made a few weak attacks on Israeli targets, al-Qaeda itself has not. They, like Whitnum, only use Israel as a cheap excuse. If there was no Israel, they would have just used another excuse.
David Evans April 12, 2012 at 02:48 AM
"This has been confirmed by both US and Israeli officials." You just destroyed your own argument.
David Evans April 20, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Arab to Arab violence did occur when US Def Sec Rob Gates sicked Saudi troops to crush the Arab Spring revolution in Bahrain, and when US-paid North African mercenaries invaded Libya to topple Qaddafi, etc. All "Arab to Arab" violence is engineered by US and Israeli strategists in order to benefit Israel and maintain Israel's dominance and US hegemony in the region, thanks to an AIPAC - led US Congress: http://www.alanhart.net/the-best-congress-aipac-can-buy/ The reason Netanyahu and Senators Lieberman and McCain are pushing Obama for a war with Iran has nothing to do with nukes. Iran and Syria are being undermined because Syria is the conduit through which Iranian defensive rockets are flowing to Israel's victims in Lebanon and Gaza. These rockets give Israel pause before again attacking and murdering thousands of Palestinians like it did in 2006 and 2008-9. Israel is intent on illegally expanding its undeclared borders, and it can't continue this project if its victims have serious retaliatory capability.

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