The two candidates in next week’s special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts faced off in their final debate last night. It was wide-ranging and spirited.
Veteran Democratic Congressman Edward Markey and Republican newcomer Gabriel Gomez exchanged barbs over each other’s records as both attempted to close the sale with voters heading into the final days of the campaign.
Gomez, who continues to trail in the polls, almost begged voters to take a chance on him.
Markey continued to stress where he and Gomez differ on issues such as banning assault weapons, raising taxes on the wealthy, and protecting popular middle class tax breaks such as home mortgage interest deductions.
Gomez challenged Markey to identify votes he’d taken where the 37- year incumbent Congressman had broken with the Democratic ranks. Gomez argued that there would be no hope of breaking partisan gridlock in Washington if voters move Markey from the House to the Senate.
Markey again mocked Gomez’s claim to be a “new kind of Republican” who will buck his party on issues such as immigration reforms and climate change, pointing to Gomez’s support for loosening restrictions on Wall Street and raising the retirement age for Social Security.
One of the liveliest exchanges of the hour- long debate, which was broadcast from the studios of Boston PBS affiliate WGBH and moderated by R.D. Sahl, came over the issue of term limits for members of Congress. Markey was incredulous when Gomez said he had broached the subject with Republican Senator John McCain when the two campaigned together in Boston earlier this month.
A McCain spokesman told the Associated Press that Gomez and McCain did discuss term limits during the visit, but McCain disagrees with Gomez on the issue.
Gomez used sharp rhetoric when he complained that Markey was misrepresenting his positions on any number of issues, including gun control.
Markey challenged Gomez to explain why an ordinary citizen would need to buy a gun that can shoot 100 rounds in two minutes. Gomez did not respond directly. He said he supported expanded background checks for gun purchasers and that his goal was to get all guns out of the hands of the wrong people.
Markey said that while his votes in Congress are a matter of public record Gomez’s past is not so transparent. Gomez has made much during the campaign of his personal story as a son of Colombian immigrants, a Navy SEAL, and a private equity investor who made millions of dollars. Markey challenged Gomez to disclose his client list.
Gomez said investors he worked with during his nine years at Advent International included public employee unions, and the Illinois pension fund which counts President Obama as a beneficiary.
Markey defended his support for millions in tax breaks to develop a polluted industrial site in his eastern Massachusetts congressional district into a telecommunications complex with thousands of jobs. The jobs did not materialize. Markey blamed the recession, but said the project resulted in a blighted area being made ready for future development.
The two candidates said that, for the most part, they support President Obama’s new policy on the use of drone strikes overseas against alleged terrorists. They both urged caution on the administration’s plans to arm Syrian rebels.
Going into the final days of the campaign Markey enjoys a two-to-one advantage in campaign finances over Gomez. Markey has also worked to organize thousands of volunteers across the state for a get-out-the-vote effort.
Voters on June 25th will choose a successor to John Kerry, who resigned from the Senate in January to become Secretary of State. The election winner will fill Kerry’s unexpired term which has just 17 months left—meaning another Senate campaign in Massachusetts is already on the horizon.