Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal Roll Up Their Sleeves

Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal go head-to-head for the first time in tonight's televised debate in Hartford. McMahon released a hard-hitting attack ad earlier today, blasting Blumenthal for saying he'd served in Vietnam when he hadn't. The ad replays Blumenthal's misstatements about his service record and ends by asking what else he might be lying about.

The New York Times exposed Blumenthal's misstep in May, and after a small furor at the time, the issue fizzled. McMahon may have taken her time parlaying it into an attack ad, but this spot could make serious waves this close to the race, blasted across the state's pricey media market with the abandon McMahon can afford.

As Chris Cillizza points out at The Fix, the very close race could tip on whether McMahon's campaign succeeds in eroding the high trust Connecticut voters have in their longtime attorney general.

So, going into tonight's debate, which will be broadcast on local networks at 7 p.m. EST and re-played on C-SPAN at 10 p.m. EST, here are the attack lines to watch:

  • Blumenthal's service record. Will McMahon follow up on her ad with a targeted, live action attack? She's known for her easy, telegenic demeanor, whereas Blumenthal is a bit less comfortable on air. If she goes in on the offensive and he's immediately forced to play defense, he could clam up throughout the debate.
  • Special interest money. McMahon's campaign has replayed clips of Blumenthal claiming that he'd "never taken PAC money" and had consistently stood up to special interests. Between January and August, however, Blumenthal took nearly $500,000 from PACs. Blumenthal's campaign has struck out against McMahon's attacks on this issue, claiming that she took his comments about PAC money out of context. Nevertheless, she's incorporated this line of attack into a larger narrative of an untrustworthy, deceitful Blumenthal. Watch for her to tie his statements about special interest funds to his misleading comments about his service record. 
  • McMahon's WWE past. While today's news cycle has focused on McMahon's attack ad, Blumenthal has plenty of material with which to go after her--not least of which are the lurid details of steroid abuse by WWE wrestlers and McMahon's business partnership with notorious "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis.
  • The minimum wage. McMahon came under fire recently for proposing a re-evaluation of the minimum wage and then revealing that she didn't know how much it currently was. Expect Blumenthal to paint this decision as emblematic of McMahon's larger disconnect from everyday people and her record of lay-offs during her leadership of WWE--a line of attack similar to that in the ad below.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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