The U.S. Senate campaign in Connecticut has become a test of who pivots best. Moving the public's attention to a candidate's strength or an opponent's weakness is an essential skill in an era of the ceaseless campaign. Democratic Senate candidate Christopher Murphy, embroiled in his eighth campaign for state or federal office, has looked clumsy for more than a week as he fumbles the details of lawsuits filed against him for not paying recurring monthly obligations.
Murphy was sued for not paying his rent on his Southington apartment in late 2003. In early 2007, he was the defendant in a foreclosure action against the Cheshire home he purchased in January 2005. Murphy seemed unprepared to offer a credible explanation for the lawsuits against him when they were raised by The Courant.
The three-term congressman's campaign provided a statement that said when Murphy and his girlfriend, now wife, were starting out they inadvertently overlooked a "couple" of mortgage payments, paying them when they learned of the oversight. Each thought the other was paying the mortgage, Murphy told some members of The Courant's editorial board as he expanded his vague explanation in a rush to contain the gathering storm a week ago.
Murphy has been economical with the details of his scrapes with landlord and lender. After retrieving and reviewing records from the Cheshire land records on Murphy's real estate two weeks ago, I asked his campaign a few questions by email. They included how many months he failed to make his mortgage payments to Chase Home Finance, which purchased the loan from Webster Bank.
To forget one mortgage payment may be an oversight, to miss more looks like a burgeoning sense of entitlement, particularly after having been sued for not paying apartment rent a few years before. Even if Murphy didn't notice he hadn't paid his mortgage, the bank would have.
If you don't pay, the bank exercises its escalating options to catch the borrower's attention. These include letters, phone calls and home visits. Sometimes the letter is certified, which means the defaulting borrower must acknowledge receiving it.
A standard mortgage document like Murphy's sets out borrower and lender rights and the time they have to exercise them. There are many, and Chase had cause to start using them. That takes time. They bank is bound by the extensive notice provisions in their mortgage with the borrower. Then there are the logistics of referring the matter to a local lawyer and having a lawsuit prepared and initiated. While that's happening, the bank keeps contacting the customer in various ways to tell him they've noticed their mortgage has not been paid.
None of the standard late notices seemed to catch Murphy's attention. He says he paid immediately when he learned of the default. The foreclosure action, however, was in court for two months before it was withdrawn.
Murphy had a second mortgage on that Cheshire property, also requiring monthly payments. It might occur to a homeowner as they are making that smaller monthly payment on the second mortgage that there's also a payment due on the much larger first mortgage. Apparently Murphy, who was the only owner of the property and borrower on the mortgage, was free of such vexatious reminders. He declined to say if he was also in arrears on his second mortgage while he forgot to pay his first.
Murphy mired in his mortgage raises memories of former Sen. Christopher Dodd's saga as a preferred customer of Countrywide Mortgage that began in 2008. Dodd told different versions, sometimes in the same day, of his experience with Countrywide. What the veteran Democrat would not do was provide details and documents for the public to review to see if they matched his story.
This is where Murphy will have trouble with voters who do not see facts through a rigid political ideology. Documents require little interpretation. This isn't like trying to understand the growth of Medicare costs over the next decade. Most adults who vote possess long experience in how mortgages work. You pay each month. If you don't, you know it and you worry until you do. Then you start thinking about the next one. The one thing you don't do is forget.