BOSTON (AP) — Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez clashed in their first debate in Massachusetts’ special U.S. Senate election Wednesday, with each candidate trying to portray the other as out of step with ordinary residents.
Gomez called Markey one of the most ‘‘hyper-partisan’’ members of Congress who is trying to scare voters while Markey charged that Gomez, a political newcomer, is just recycling ‘‘the same old, stale Republican ideas.’’
One of the sharpest exchanges of the one-hour debate came over the investigation into the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya and Massachusetts native Glen Doherty, who was working as a private security contractor at the consulate.
Markey accused Republicans of turning the Benghazi hearings into a ‘‘Republican circus’’ to go after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to prevent her from getting the 2016 Democratic nomination for president.
But Gomez said it’s Markey and other Democrats who are more concerned about Clinton’s political future than getting to the truth
‘‘I can’t think of a more classic example of putting partisan politics above people,’’ said Gomez.
‘‘You are the one politicizing this,’’ Markey shot back, saying Republicans were trying to use the attack for ‘‘short term political gain.’’
Gomez also called for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists.
Markey stopped short of calling for Holder’s resignation, but said he agreed that the seizure of records from reporters was wrong.
Referencing the investigation into the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Markey said anyone who did anything wrong at the IRS should be ‘‘found and fired immediately.’’
On the issue of guns, the two staked out sharply different ground during the debate sponsored by WBZ-TV and The Boston Globe.
Markey said one of his top jobs in Washington is opposing efforts by the National Rifle Association to stymie gun control measures. He criticized Gomez for opposing a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and said Massachusetts should be out front on gun laws.
‘‘We’re Massachusetts. We’re special. We’re supposed to be the leader,’’ Markey said. ‘‘We need someone who is going to go down to Washington to take on the NRA.’’
Gomez defended his position and accused Markey of trying to scare voters. Gomez said he supported a recent, bipartisan proposal that came up in the Senate that would have mandated wider background checks for gun sales.
‘‘I'm going to speak from the heart. I'm going to tell you the truth,’’ Gomez said. ‘‘You want to be divisive about that instead of trying to fix the problem.’’
The two also split on the future of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.
Gomez said the law is hurting middle class families and small businesses. He pointed specifically to a tax on medical device manufacturers.
Gomez said it should be left up to individual states to address health care problems. He praised Massachusetts 2006 health care law signed by Gov. Mitt Romney, but said health care policy shouldn’t be dictated by Washington.
‘‘People who spend all their time down in D.C. live in a cocoon,’’ Gomez said.
Markey also praised the state’s 2006 law signed by Romney, but pointed out that the Massachusetts law became the blueprint for the 2010 federal law signed by Obama. Markey has said his vote for that law is one of the proudest of his career.
‘‘You can’t have it both ways,’’ Markey said. ‘‘Romneycare became the model for the rest of the country.’’
Markey and Gomez are also scheduled to debate in western Massachusetts on June 11 and again in Boston on June 18.
The election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the resignation of John Kerry is June 25.