The five candidates for the state’s open US Senate seat met tonight in their first televised debates. The three Republican hopefuls debated first, from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., followed by the two Democrats for the double billing’s second half-hour. Both sessions aired live on WCVB-TV (channel 5).
8:01 p.m.: Candidates in both parties will now meet the press.
7:57 p.m.: Both Dems get the Bernanke question that Republicans got. Both Ed Markey, first, and then Steve Lynch, say the Fed chair deserves another term.
7:57 p.m.: Moderator R.D. Sahl asks whether it’s time to let interest rates rise. Steve Lynch says “communities of color” are not enjoying an economic recovery. “The recovery may be reaching Wall Street, it may be meeting State Street, but it’s not reaching Blue Hill Ave.,” Lynch says. He says rates should be kept low. Ed Markey says, “We have still an economic crisis for many in this country.” Running down poverty stats, Markey says, “We cannot raise interest rates at this point in time.”
7:54 p.m.: Ed Markey, generously, asks Steve Lynch for an explanation of how the federal government can ensure returning veterans receive proper assistance. Lynch, getting in a Ted Kennedy reference of his own, says he helped fight the closure of three Veterans Administration hospitals in his congressional district. Lynch then says that post-traumatic stress disorder is not being properly diagnosed, and says veterans’ care needs more funding. Markey says the country should not have fought two wars without paying for them. He says, “We should not shortchange any one of these veterans.”
7:51 p.m.: Steve Lynch presses Ed Markey on his vote for NAFTA and accuses him of siding against the local fishing industry on catch limits. “You’re siding with the bug guys against the little guys,” Lynch says. Closes with, “What’s up with that?” Markey, a little vaguely, replies that there needs to be a plan for the fishing industry. He says he worked to break up telecom monopolies, saying they were “stultifying” the state’s ability to drive innovation growth.
7:48 p.m.: Given the chance to ask Steve Lynch a question, Ed Markey asks for an explanation of his 2011 vote on the debt ceiling. Lynch says the idea was to give the supercommittee time to devise a debt- and deficit-reduction scheme. Markey, clearly ready, says the sequestration created under the debt-ceiling vote would drain funding from Massachusetts. Lynch says the taxes Markey voted for “are so high they become confiscatory.”
7:46 p.m.: Question time. Steve Lynch asks Ed Markey to explain his Wall Street bailout vote. Markey name-checks President Obama, Barney Frank, and John Kerry, all of whom supported the bill, and says the bill prevented an economic collapse. He says he voted for “Main Street.” Lynch says, “The banks just stuffed their banks full of cash, number one, and never increased lending. So you can take credit for something that never happened, I guess.” Coming back, Markey says he’s the author of legislation that would have blocked credit-default swaps and argues that if the banks had gone under, the economic collapse would have taken a generation to recover from.
7:43 p.m.: Asked to explain his 30-year-old switch on abortion policy, Ed Markey says he arrived at “the logical conclusion” about a woman’s right to choose. Steve Lynch says Markey once backed overturning Roe v. Wade, says, “It’s not just an evolution, this is acrobatics.” Markey points to a Lynch vote on a proposed Obamacare amendment that would have blocked insurance coverage for abortion. Lynch counters that Medicaid, a state-administered program, provides that coverage.
7:40 p.m.: Ed Markey takes a firm pro-choice stand. “For 30 years, I have been a consistent supporter of a woman’s right to choose.” He’s been in Congress for 36. Steve Lynch says, “I consider myself pro-life.” Adds, “I’ll confess, I’m not an expert on church teachings, but I am an expert on what I believe.” Lynch then says “attacking” Roe v. Wade is not the solution and that he spoke on the House floor against reducing Planned Parenthood funding.
7:38 p.m.: Quite a distance between the two Democrats over Obamacare. Steve Lynch calls it “a very flawed bill” and a missed opportunity. Ed Markey calls it “the proudest vote of my career,” turns on Lynch: “You were wrong when you were needed most.” Offered a rebuttal, Lynch muscles up, saying, “We gave them everything they wanted in that bill. And it was like a hostage [where] we not only paid the ransom, but we let the insurance companies keep the hostages.” Markey name-checks Ted Kennedy (second time) and Harry Truman, says he would block GOP repeal in Senate.
7:34 p.m.: Onto the Dems. Moderator R.D. Sahl starts with a gridlock question. Why send back longtime incumbents? Ed Markey says he took on the NRA and passed anti-monopoly telecom legislation and is “leading the effort on a clean-energy revolution.” Steve Lynch points out the hard right and hard left, saying, “Sometimes the party positions solidify that intractability.” Citing his independence from party leadership, Lynch says people know that, “ ‘Hey, I don’t work for Nancy Pelosi and I won’t work for Harry Reid’.”
7:30 p.m.: The final question of the Republican debate reveals not a lot of Ben Bernanke fans in the GOP field. Gabriel Gomez says he wants to see someone else. Both Mike Sullivan and Dan Winslow say Bernanke shouldn’t get another term at the Fed.
7:28 p.m.: With three minutes to go, moderator R.D. Sahl asks candidates whether there is a “tripwire” in either Iran or North Korea for U.S. military action. Dan Winslow says there should be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. Gabriel Gomez says “Israel should have the green light to do whatever it needs to defend itself.” Mike Sullivan cites work “with counterparts in Israel” and says U.S. should “support [Israel] in every measure.”
7:26 p.m.: Moderator R.D. Sahl asks an abortion question in context of national Republican platform. Mike Sullivan says he’s pro-life and has been his whole life, that he wants to be supportive of women, and that he wants streamlined adoption processes. Sahl follows up with direct question about the party platform, and Sullivan says he has not read it. Dan Winslow says he’s pro-choice, calls Roe v. Wade “the settled law,” calls abortion “a question for a person’s conscience, her faith, and her family.” Gabriel Gomez, citing his Catholicism, calls himself personally pro-life, but says “I’m not going down to D.C. to change the law.”
7:23 p.m.: Mike Sullivan, in response to Dan Winslow’s question, says that he would tame the deficit by targeting “waste.” Pressed for more answers, Sullivan cites his experience at the Department of Justice reducing budgets and says he would not cut military funding if it jeopardized military personnel safety.
7:21 p.m.: Gabriel Gomez uses his question to serve up a softball to Dan Winslow, who answers that both Democratic candidates would have voted for higher taxes. “Any one of us is better than either one of them,” says Winslow, pointing to his primary rivals.
7:18 p.m.: Mike Sullivan thanks Gabriel Gomez for his military service, then asks him to describe his budget management experience. Gomez replies he sat on a board that managed a large company. Sullivan presses him, and Gomez details his experience, then pivots to voters’ fondness for candidates with private-sector experience. “I’ve got leadership experience, and I’ve been effective my whole life,” Gomez says.
7:16 p.m.: All three candidates say they would repeal Obamacare, albeit with different styles. “I think the overall theme of Obamacare was right,” says Gabriel Gomez, pointing to universal health care, adding, “I don’t think he went about it the right way.” Mike Sullivan says Obamacare “makes no sense at all” and didn’t address. Dan Winslow says, “Obamacare was bad for Massachusetts. We didn’t need it.”
7:13 p.m.: Dan Winslow proposes a bipartisan commission to make Social Security solvent. Gabriel Gomez proposes means-testing and a “slow increase in the retirement age.” Mike Sullivan, seeming to home in on Winslow, says he would “be willing to stand up” and make difficult choices, not delegate to an unelected panel. He suggests using the budget process to rein in deficit and debt.
7:10 p.m.: Dan Winslow and Mike Sullivan have some polite back and forth, each questioning the clarity of the other’s stance on gay marriage. Both, to be clear, want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed.
7:08 p.m.: U.S. Republican Party, welcome to Massachusetts. All three Republican candidates resist national maneuevers against gay marriage, and all three make federalist argument. Mike Sullivan says same-sex marriage policy should be left to states, says he supports repeal of Defense of Marriage Act. Dan Winslow says he supports repeal and regrets the policy is in the hands of the Supreme Court. Gabriel Gomez says he’s “proud” that Massachusetts was first to sanction gay marriage.
7:06 p.m.: Unsurprisingly, all three candidates say they could work with members of both parties. In his answer, Dan Winslow wins the race to name-drop Scott Brown.
7:04 p.m.: Dan Winslow, describing his sales job on the GOP to Mass. voters, says, “We’re not the Grand Old Party anymore, that scary party. We’re the growth and opportunity party.”
7:04 p.m.: Mike Sullivan says his case to Mass. voters revolves around fiscal stability, energy and national security.
7:03 p.m.: Gabriel Gomez, up first, asked to make the GOP case to Bay State voters, answers that he’s been pitching more personal responsibility and freedom.
7:01 p.m.: Moderator R.D. Sahl opens the show by saying the contest is about “something rare in Massachusetts politics: an open U.S. Senate seat.”
6:57 p.m.: Quick reminder on the format tonight: Republicans Gabriel Gomez, Mike Sullivan, and Dan Winslow debate first, then Democratic congressmen Ed Markey and Steve Lynch. WCVB staff say the hour will be commercial free.
6:01 p.m.: A heavy turnout more than an hour before the debate starts for both Democratic candidates. Supporters holding both Ed Markey and Steve Lynch campaign signs are lining the roads leading to WCVB’s station in Needham.
Jim O'Sullivan can be reached at James.OSullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.