The two candidates in the special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts stuck to familiar themes during a debate Tuesday night in Springfield. With polls showing the race tightening, Democrat Congressman Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez appeared to be trying to play it safe and avoid missteps.
There were no heated exchanges over policy issues and no personal attacks, but both candidates managed to highlight their differences ahead of the June 25th special election. Right from the beginning of the hour-long debate Gomez stuck with his campaign strategy of trying to turn Markey’s long Congressional career into a liability.
Markey argued that Gomez is on the wrong side, at least for liberal Massachusetts, of such issues as gun control, tax reform, and environmental policies, and he said his campaign is not being negative by pointing this out.
Gomez said he was appalled by the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s gathering of phone call records and internet activity.
Markey did not criticize the NSA surveillance programs which have been defended by President Obama as necessary to protect the country against terrorist attacks.
Questioned about the need for jobs in western Massachusetts, Markey said he supports more funding for community colleges and for improvements to the region’s passenger rail system.
Gomez called for repeal of the federal tax on medical devices, which he said is hurting manufacturers of the state’s leading export.
Gomez called for overhauling the federal tax code and said he would put everything on the table to try and win a bipartisan reform.
Markey said he would not agree to eliminate such popular income tax deductions as interest on home mortgages and medical bills.
The two candidates also differed on the Keystone pipeline project. Markey, who is supported by national environmental groups opposes the project that would bring tar sands oil from Canada to an export facility in Texas. Gomez said the pros of the project outweighed the negatives.
Markey and Gomez also clashed on the issue of campaign finance reform. Gomez said it would not be fair to shut down super PACs created as a result of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens’ United” decision while incumbents still enjoy a big fund raising advantage.
Gomez, surprisingly, announced his support for two Democratic sponsored bills. One would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. The second seeks to guarantee pay equity to women. Republicans, including former Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, oppose the later because they believe it will expose businesses to costly litigation.
A Suffolk University poll released earlier this week showed Gomez had reduced the double digit lead Markey once enjoyed to seven points.
Markey’s campaign is counting on a well oiled Democratic get-out-the-vote machine.
Markey’s campaign gets a boost today ( Wednesday) by a visit from President Obama, who will address a rally in Boston. The Suffolk University poll showed President Obama’s approval rating in Massachusetts at 60 percent.
Tuesday night’s debate was sponsored by a western Massachusetts media consortium and was held at the studios of PBS affiliate WGBY. It was moderated by Jim Madigan of WGBY