The son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy rallied unionized workers Wednesday to back Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the state's U.S. Senate race, saying the candidate shares his father's vision of fairness in society.
Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Kiki Kennedy, who live in Branford, appeared with Blumenthal at a rally with about 200 unionized workers, mostly from Yale University in New Haven.
"He has been on our side for 20 years," Kennedy Jr. told the crowd, mentioning several of Blumenthal's legal battles as attorney general, including his work to defeat Islander East, a now-defunct, proposed natural gas pipeline in Long Island Sound between Connecticut and New York. Kiki Kennedy actively opposed the project.
Kennedy Jr. also recalled how, as a law student at the University of Connecticut, he watched Blumenthal argue before the state's Supreme Court. He said Blumenthal could have left the job to an associate attorney general but decided to learn the case and make the arguments himself.
"He studies issues meticulously, and he does his homework," said Kennedy, who likened Blumenthal's persistence to that of his father, the late Massachusetts senator.
Kennedy made news in the Connecticut Senate race last month when he asked Blumenthal's Republican opponent, former wrestling company executive Linda McMahon, to pull an online political ad that featured his late uncle President John F. Kennedy talking about tax cuts. Kennedy said the ad was misleading voters into thinking JFK would have supported McMahon's position on tax policy. McMahon disagreed, spelling out her reasoning in a letter to Kennedy, and didn't pull the ad.
Polls show Blumenthal is in a close race with McMahon to fill the seat now held by the retiring U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd.
Taking advantage of the pro-labor audience, Blumenthal took a quick jab at McMahon for her recent comments about the minimum wage. When asked last week if she thought the current wage rate — $8.25 an hour in Connecticut and $7.25 nationally — should be reduced to help struggling employers, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. did not specifically rule it out.
"We've got minimum wages in the states, we've got the minimum wages in the government and I think we ought to look at all of those issues in terms of what mandates are being placed on businesses and can they afford them," said McMahon, whose comments were immediately criticized by state and national Democrats.
McMahon has since emphatically said she does not support cutting back the current wage rates but said future increases should be weighed carefully.
Blumenthal received loud cheers when he told the crowd he would have immediately said no if asked whether he supported reducing the wage rate.
Laurie Kennington, president of Local 34 of Unite Here, a union representing clerical and technical workers at Yale, urged union members to support Blumenthal, just like they supported Barack Obama in his presidential campaign.
"Richard Blumenthal has been there every time we need his help," she said, mentioning when he has joined unions on picket lines.
McMahon spent part of Wednesday visiting New Opportunities, a community action agency for Waterbury and 27 surrounding areas that works to help the economically disadvantaged. She and Blumenthal are scheduled to appear Thursday in their second face-to-face debate.