BOSTON (AP) — Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez clashed in their first debate in Massachusetts’ special U.S. Senate election Wednesday, sparring on abortion, national security and gun issues.
A recurring theme of the one-hour matchup at the WBZ-TV studios was Gomez’s claim that Markey is representative of old-style Washington politics while Markey suggested that Gomez would be another Republican vote for gridlock in Congress. Markey has been a member of the U.S. House since 1976 while Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, has never held elective office.
One of the fiercest exchanges came at the very end of the debate and focused on the issue of abortion.
Asked if he could support a law that would require women to wait 24 hours and review information about the development of a fetus before having an abortion, Gomez stated that while he is personally ‘‘pro-life’’ he isn’t interested in changing abortion law.
Gomez then suggested he could support the waiting period.
‘‘I think asking somebody to wait 24 hours before they can actually go have an abortion is not asking a lot,’’ he said.
Markey described himself as ‘‘pro-choice.’’
‘‘I think the decision should be between the woman and her physician. That’s it. The woman makes the decision, not some law that’s imposed by politicians,’’ he said.
Gomez also said he could vote for a Supreme Court nominee who is opposed to abortion.
‘‘If the judge comes in front of me and they follow the constitution and they’re ethical and they’re pro-choice and they've done a good job. I'll vote for them. If they’re pro-life, I'll vote for them,’’ he said. ‘‘There should be no litmus test.’’
Markey said there should be a litmus test when it comes to abortion.
‘‘I have a litmus test. I would not vote for a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade,’’ he said.
A spokesman for Gomez later tried to clarify the candidate’s remarks, saying he would not push for or support a federal law calling for a 24-hour waiting period for abortion.
The candidates also had a sharp exchange over congressional hearings into the attack on the U.S. consulate 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.
‘‘We have to make sure (the investigation) just doesn’t turn into another Republican circus trying to go after Hillary Clinton to prevent her from being the Democratic nominee in 2016,’’ Markey said.
Gomez suggested Markey and other Democrats were more concerned about Clinton’s future than getting to the truth, calling it ‘‘another great example of putting politics and partisanship before the people.’’
‘‘You are the one politicizing this,’’ Markey shot back.
Gomez also called for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately resign and for an independent investigator to be appointed to look into the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists.
Markey stopped short of calling for Holder’s resignation, though he agreed that the seizure of records from reporters was wrong.
The two differed on U.S. policy in the ongoing conflict in Syria, with Gomez calling for a more aggressive approach by the U.S.
‘‘At a minimum ... we should have a no-fly zone (over Syria) and we should be supplying aid to the rebel group that we identify that’s going to eventually take over,’’ Gomez said.
But Markey cautioned against any unilateral action by the U.S. that could lead to unintended consequences, including a no-fly zone or arming rebels, without consensus from allies.
‘‘If it’s done wrong it could lead to military escalation on the ground that could pull in the United States of America,’’ Markey warned.
After the debate, Gomez said he would try to convince U.S. allies to support a no-fly zone but would urge the U.S. to go forward even without a U.N. resolution.
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.
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.
The two also split on President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.
Gomez said the law is hurting middle class families and small businesses, including the state’s medical device manufacturers.
Markey praised the 2010 law, which he has called one of the proudest votes of his career.
Gomez told reporters after the debate that his campaign is drawing enthusiasm not just from Republicans but many independents and Democrats as well.
‘‘I think you would see that we have an amazing amount of momentum and surge going on right now,’’ said Gomez. ‘‘Why else would President Obama be coming to Boston next week? Because they’re scared,’’ he added, referring to the Markey campaign.
But Markey, in his post-debate remarks, scoffed at Gomez’s claim of being a new kind of Republican.
‘‘He’s got the oldest, stalest Republican ideas that he’s running on,’’ the Democrat said.
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.