Gabriel Gomez, Ed Markey spar in debate as US Senate special election looms in two weeks

The Western Massachusetts senatorial debate between Democratic Congressman Edward Markey, right, and Republican Gabriel Gomez takes place, Tuesday, June 11, 2013 in the studios of WGBY in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Springfield-Republican, Dave Roback, Pool)
Gomez and Markey debated in the studios of WGBY-TV in Springfield, Mass.Credit: Dave Roback/The Republican/AP

Democratic US Representative Edward J. Markey said tonight in a debate in the special election race for US Senate that he would oppose eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction as a way to address the nation’s deficit problems. But his opponent, Republican businessman Gabriel E. Gomez, said he would go into deficit reduction talks with an “open mind ... willing to discuss everything.”

“I’m not going in there with any preconditions. ... I would throw everything in the bucket and discuss it,” Gomez said, though he noted that eliminating the deduction would be “at the bottom of the list.”

Markey said, “I do have a precondition and my precondition is that the home mortage interest deduction is not on the table, that people should be able to rely on that promise, that they will be able to afford the home of their dreams.”

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The candidates addressed a variety of issues in the one-hour debate in Springfield, with Markey working to highlight areas where he feels Gomez’s stands are too conservative for Massachusetts voters and Gomez portraying Markey, who has been in the House for nearly 37 years, as a creature of a Washington that is stuck in partisan gridlock.

“You are Washington, D.C., and you own the national debt, sir,” Gomez said, promising to reach across the aisle to change the political atmosphere.

The debate, the second of three, comes with only two weeks to go before the election. Markey, a long-time Malden congressman, and Gomez, a private equity investor and former Navy SEAL, are vying to fill the seat formerly held by John F. Kerry, who resigned to become secretary of state.

Gomez, a political neophyte, faces an uphill battle in a traditionally blue state. But he is hoping to sway enough independent voters to lift him to victory.

He appeared to be appealing to those voters tonight by supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act, which calls for equal pay for women; by calling himself a “green Republican” and saying that “there are people in my party who deny science;” and by saying that he was “ashamed” that only a handful of Republicans voted for the Toomey-Manchin bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Gomez also said he supported an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10 and expressed support for gay marriage.

Gomez was at times combative, starting off the debate with charges that Markey had raised a “fundamental question of character and trust” by attacking him in misleading campaign ads.

But Markey remained unruffled and pivoted quickly. Markey said he believed assault weapons and high-capacity weapons should be banned, while Gomez only favors expanded background checks.

“He takes the side of the NRA,” said Markey, noting that he wanted to fight to make “NRA” stand for Not Relevant Anymore.

Markey said he wanted higher-income people to pay “their fair share” of taxes, while charging that “Mr. Gomez thinks the taxes on the wealthy are already high enough.”

Markey said that he wanted to keep laws in place that were enacted after the financial crisis, but “Mr. Gomez believes those regulations are too tough.”

Markey also charged in his closing statement that Gomez wanted to “cut Social Security for senior citizens” and “take away a woman’s right to choose.” The comments were apparent references to Gomez’s support for a new formula for calculating Social Security cost of living increases and Gomez’s refusal to rule out voting for a US Supreme Court nominee who would overturn Roe. v. Wade.

The debate was broadcast on WGBY-TV, CBS 3 Springfield, ABC-40/FOX-6 and NBC-22, and air on New England Public Radio, 88.5 FM. MassLive.com livestreamed the debate.

With the June 25 election looming on the horizon, a new poll of likely voters released this morning found Markey leading Gomez by 7 points. That was the same margin as a poll released Monday. Markey’s lead appears to have narrowed from earlier polls.

Markey is hoping to get a boost from a visit to the state Wednesday by Democratic President Barack Obama.

The first debate was last week in Boston. The final debate showdown between the two candidates will be on June 18 at the WGBH-TV studios in Boston.

It is the third Senate race in three years in the state. Republican Scott Brown won a stunning upset victory in January 2010 in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Democratic icon Edward M. Kennedy. Brown failed to win re-election last fall in a race against Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren.

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