SPRINGFIELD—The final debate of the US Senate Democratic primary devolved into an exchange of insults and character allegations Tuesday night, as US Representatives Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch abandoned collegiality for a bare knuckles confrontation with one week remaining in their contest.
Meeting at a Springfield television station, Markey and Lynch feuded over each other’s Homeland Security records, a particularly salient policy topic after last week’s deadly Boston Marathon bombings.
The sharpest exchange, though, came when Markey claimed Lynch’s opposition to federal financial assistance for manufacturers prompted an endorsement for Markey from an automobile workers union. Lynch retorted that he had voted for that bailout, frequently touted by the Obama administration as a successful countermeasure to the recession.
“I don’t want to call you a liar, but you are,” Lynch told Markey.
In response, Markey said, “Steve was inappropriately, personally insulting.”
After Markey explained the allegation, Lynch turned up the heat and replied, “I take it back, you’re not a liar, you’re just misinformed.”
“He is incorrigible here,” Markey told moderator Jim Madigan of WGBY, which hosted the debate.
Lynch voted in favor of a House measure that would have aided the domestic auto industry, but against the troubled asset relief program (TARP). Washington used funds from TARP to assist Detroit.
Public polling has shown Markey as the front-runner, but strategists in both camps acknowledge the politically destabilizing impact of last week’s terror attacks that killed three people and injured 264.
Lynch on Monday showed a renewed vigor at a debate televised on WBZ-TV and co-sponsored by the Globe, and advisers said it was indicative of the aggressive tone he would deploy during the primary campaign’s final stretch.
In Springfield, both candidates appeared to eschew the reverential tone used by all of the campaigns in the days since the bombings, eager to cut into each other and willing to engage in the most personal back-and-forth of the race. The debate had been rescheduled after all five Senate campaigns suspended active electioneering last week in the wake of Monday’s bombings.
Parrying against Lynch’s charges from the night before, Markey said his fellow Democrat had misrepresented his positions on port security legislation.
“Many of his charges are desperate, they’re sad, they’re Karl Rove-ian in their inaccuracies,” Markey said after the debate, alluding to former President George W. Bush’s political guru.
Asked after the hour-long debate about his relations with Markey, Lynch replied, “It’s not as bad as it looks.
“I don’t know what would lead him to say something like that, as baldly false,” Lynch said of Markey’s auto bailout charge. “So, I was thinking, well, maybe he thinks that this is the last debate, so he can put that out there.”
Lynch, for the second consecutive night, took off the gloves and went right at Markey over Homeland Security, questioning the delegation dean’s votes against establishing the joint terrorism task force that helped track the alleged Boston bombers and against a port security bill.
Markey told reporters he voted against the task force because it would have permitted the US military to play a role in domestic law enforcement.
“That was a vote on whether or not we would break a hundred years of tradition, of separating the military from civilian law enforcement,” Markey said.
Both candidates strived to evince support for Israel, adopting hard-line stances against Iran and Hezbollah. Both touted their insistence that Social Security, on the table as a potential source of cost savings as Washington looks to trim spending, not be altered.
But the enmity between Lynch and Markey, rare among the usually publicly friendly Massachusetts delegation, was in sharp contrast to any like opinions on issues.
Returning to Markey’s national security record, which he had hammered the night before, Lynch said, “You’re so far out on the left, Ed,” and called his record “ridiculous.”
Markey again hit Lynch on his vote against the 2010 federal health care expansion, pointing to Lynch as an outlier among Massachusetts officeholders in opposing the legislation.
“You were the only one in our delegation that voted no,” Markey said. Lynch shot back, “I think I’m the only one that read the bill.”
Markey continued his attack, saying that Lynch was “out of line” in voting against the health care bill, invoking the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who had long worked for health care expansion.
“This is what the Democratic Party is all about, it’s ensuring universal access to health care,” Markey said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lynch’s campaign launched a new television ad, a warm spot focused on last week’s attacks. Markey returned to the air with a previously aired ad highlighting women’s issues.
Lynch expressed post-debate confidence in next Tuesday’s outcome, telling reporters, “Maybe you’ll be surprised, but I won’t be. I’m going to win.”
Voters will choose the Democratic nominee on April 30, the same day as the Republican primary. State Representative Daniel B. Winslow, former US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and private equity investor Gabriel E. Gomez are vying for the GOP nomination.
The general election is scheduled for June 25.