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Edward Markey, Gabriel Gomez debate tonight in special election race for US Senate

US Senate hopefuls Democrat Edward J. Markey and Republican Gabriel E. Gomez meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the first of three high-stakes television debates.

Markey, a long-time congressman, will go toe-to-toe with Gomez, a private equity investor, at the WBZ-TV studios in Allston in a debate sponsored by WBZ-TV and The Boston Globe.

Less than three weeks before the election, the hour-long forum gives each a chance to introduce or reintroduce himself to voters, knock his opponent, and attempt to cast the storyline of the compressed race in his favor. But, as with any live television event, opportunities abound for the candidates to stumble.

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Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and essentially a political novice, will have to show command of the issues and break out beyond his usual sound bites. Markey, who started in Congress in 1976, will have to prove his long tenure in Washington has not sapped his passion for the policies that matter to Massachusetts voters.

The debate will be anchored by Jon Keller of WBZ, with Globe political editor Cynthia Needham asking additional questions.

The debate will air live on WBZ-TV and will stream online at www.cbsboston.com, www.boston.com, and www.bostonglobe.com. It will also air on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM.

The debate also will be liveblogged on www.boston.com and www.bostonglobe.com.

Voters will head to the polls on June 25 to pick their new senator. The seat became vacant when John F. Kerry resigned to become US secretary of state.

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