Democrats Markey, Lynch spar in feisty US Senate debate

The two Democratic hopefuls for Massachusetts’ open Senate seat went toe-to-toe Monday night in a debate filled with fireworks. Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of South Boston, went on the attack repeatedly against the voting record of Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Malden, who is widely seen as the frontrunner in the two-man race.

“Ed is policy guy and I’m a people guy,” Lynch said late in the debate, encapsulating the contrast he appeared to be drawing with Markey.

Markey, speaking with a restrained cadence, as if he were carefully choosing all his words, stayed cool throughout the hour-long exchange, defending his record in Congress and declining to draw distinctions between him and Lynch with the same intensity of his opponent.

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The debate at WBZ-TV studios in Allston came one week after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and eight days before primary voters go to the polls.

National security proved to be a big pivot point in the debate. Lynch repeatedly attacked Markey for voting against a port security bill and against the creation of a joint terrorism task force, both of which Lynch said he voted for.

“You can say you wrote this and wrote that. I understand policy,” Lynch said. “But when the issue came up to create that joint task force, I voted yes, you voted no. I don’t know how you spin that!”

Markey said if he did vote no, it was because they were “excluding a provision that would have made the bill even stronger.”

On the issue of balancing privacy with security, both candidates appeared to have similar policy positions. Markey and Lynch agreed that, while keeping privacy concerns in mind, more closed-circuit televison cameras could be a good idea. The suspects in last week’s bombings were indentified with the help of pictures from CCTV feeds.

Both candidates also found common ground—even if they didn’t say it—on gun control. They both support robust legislation on the issue.

Lynch mentioned a cousin, Brian, who was killed by gun violence. Markey talked about helping stop the importation of certain types of Chinese guns in the 1990s, a topic that was the focus of one of his television advertisements.

As the debate entered its final 15 minutes, Lynch once again went on the offensive, dinging his opponent for his votes in favor of the 2008 bank bailout, NAFTA, and one of Markey’s marquee pieces of legislation, the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

“The truth of the matter is, Ed has been on the side of big business,” Lynch said.

Markey defended himself, saying he voted for the bank bailout with Barack Obama “when the threat was the system was going to collapse.” And he defended the telecommunications legislation, saying it fostered increased competition and created lots of jobs.

In perhaps the line of the evening, Lynch attacked Markey on his position on fishing issues saying, “I’m with the fisherman, you’re with the fish.”

Later, Markey retorted that Lynch was “putting so many red herrings out here” an aquarium was needed.

The debate was sponsored by WBZ-TV and The Boston Globe and was anchored by Jon Keller of WBZ-TV, with Globe Political Editor Cynthia Needham also asking questions of the candidates.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face either private equity investor and former Navy SEAL Gabriel E. Gomez, former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan, or state Representative Daniel B. Winslow.

Both the Democratic and Republican primaries are scheduled for April 30. The general election is set for June 25.

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