Democratic candidates for Connecticut's U.S. Senate seat are questioning whether one of their lesser-known colleagues should be allowed to participate in future debates after she called U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy a "whore" for his support of Israel during a live televised debate on Thursday night.
Murphy, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, state Rep. William Tong, and Matthew Oakes each expressed disgust over the comments made by Lee Whitnum, a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Israel. Whitnum also referred to Tong as "ignorant" during her closing remarks. Tong had defended Murphy at one point in the hour-long debate, sponsored by WVIT-TV.
The five are vying for the party's endorsement and ultimately to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.
Oakes, another lesser known candidate, said he doesn't believe Whitnum should be allowed to participate in future debates. The next one is scheduled for Monday at the University of Connecticut.
"And I was the one that spoke out loudest about including all the candidates," he said. "The fact that she just attempted to ruin the good that I was trying to do is offensive to me . . . I can't in all good conscience say, `Well include us in the debates, all of us,' if she's going to be that offensive."
Tong questioned whether it makes sense to allow Whitnum to continue participating.
"What we want is a productive conversation," Tong said. "That wasn't constructive and it wasn't productive."
"It's one thing to have a policy disagreement and clearly we have some," said Bysiewicz. "But it's another thing to just get personal and start name calling and that's not called for."
Whitnum, an unemployed software engineer from Greenwich, accused Murphy of "drinking the AIPAC Kool-Aid," referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She said she is the only U.S. Senate candidate who is not pro-Israel and called AIPAC a "cancer in our government." She questioned why the U.S. was supporting Israel financially, saying "the Jewish community has almost always taken care of its own" and how U.S. taxpayers "have to pay the price for a country that's not impoverished."
Murphy defended U.S. support of Israel, saying it is in the country's national security interest.
"I stand with the U.S./Israeli relationship and I'm willing to defend my position on it," he said. "It just should be done without name-calling."
During her closing remarks, Whitnum motioned to Murphy and said, "I'm dealing with whore here, who sells his soul to AIPAC, who will say anything for a job." She then motioned to Tong and referred to him as "ignorant," saying her comments have been "twisted to be racist."
After the debate, Whitnum acknowledged to reporters that she may have come on too strong, saying she "wasn't really thrilled with the way it turned out." But she defended her overall stance.
"I don't talk about religion, I talk about a handful of people, the neoconservatives, who had an Israel-first agenda that is well-documented and to not talk about that is pandering," she said. "We've got to face reality. And you need a politician who's going to face reality."
Murphy joked afterwards that he's been called "bad names" over the last five years.
"That's pretty raw language, but I've heard worse at some of my town hall meetings," he said. But Murphy said he didn't expect it in a live, televised debate.
"No, there's no place for that language in a civilized political campaign," he said.
Last month, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sought a court order barring Whitnum from requesting more documents from him. She sued him for alleged slander in May 2010 before Malloy was governor. She claims he was wrong to call comments she made anti-Semitic.
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