The crowd was noteworthy. They got involved early and often in the debate with a mostly pro-McMahon bent. Early on, McMahon criticized her opponent for not putting forward a jobs plan and the audience erupted. Multiple times, moderator Mark Davis had to ask the crowd to hold their feedback until the end of the debate. This prompted boos.
The key contrast was nailed early in the debate, by the moderator no less. He noted that Sen. Joe Lieberman is a nationally-known centrist on many issues, and Chris Murphy has been measurably more progressive than even the progressive House Democrats. The people of Connecticut would be trading a moderate politician for a party-line Democrat.
McMahon took advantage, noting that she is a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Republican who believes in growing the economy and would carry Sen. Lieberman's bipartisan torch.
Early on, Murphy tried to downplay McMahon's experience with economic issues, saying that she'd do little to reduce the deficit and that jobs created by the WWE under her tenure came with low benefits and high danger. Murphy said that McMahon wouldn't vote for a 10:1 spending cuts-to-tax hikes deal and claimed that McMahon was on board with Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
There's one large problem with this last part: it's not true. McMahon signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 2010 when she was running for Senate, but the 2012 version does not have McMahon's signature on it. This hasn't stopped Murphy from claiming otherwise.
Murphy refused to admit to being a protectionist when pressed. Murphy has founded the "Buy American" caucus in the House of Representatives, which has sharply criticized free trade and pushed inefficient economic policies in Congress. Murphy used that progressive buzzword to describe his approach: "fair trade."
An exchange between the candidates on Social Security found Murphy pushing a falsehood. He claimed that McMahon supports "sunsetting" social security. "You know you're being dishonest," McMahon shot back, and noted that journalists had concluded that this line of attack is "baseless and false."
There was a sharp back and forth exchange between the candidates on taxpayer funding for contraception. Murphy repeatedly hit McMahon on the question of mandating private hospitals to provide contraception to rape victims. McMahon said that she supports access to contraception but didn't think that it was right to force a Catholic hospital to violate their conscience. She also emphasized her status as a pro-life candidate.
"Congressman Murphy, I am a woman," McMahon said. "I have a daughter. I have three granddaughters. I don't want any legislation or any laws that are going to negatively impact their choice. I am a pro-choice candidate."
The moderator asked the two candidates about a constitutional amendment to end "corporate personhood" - without mentioning what this would actually mean in practice. Murphy shifted into talking-points mode about outside money and special interest, getting into trouble when he said that, of outside money, "the Republican Party of course benefits... it accrues to their side by a two or three or four to one margin."
In fact, as OpenSecrets has documented, special interest money has been about even between the parties - and by far the largest contributors have given to Democrats. ActBlue, AFSCME, the SEIU, and two teachers' unions are all in the top ten when it comes to campaign expenditures.