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In Massachusetts Senate debate, time for Gomez to come out swinging

Both Rep. Edward Markey and Gabriel Gomez need to break stereotypes in Wednesday's debate. But with Gomez behind, he has more work to do to win the Massachusetts Senate seat.

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“He doesn’t want to stir the hornet’s nest of independents,” says Ray La Raja, an political scientist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “He doesn’t want to put himself in a position where he might open his mouth and give Gomez an unforced error.”

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Those diverging strategies have left both campaigns open to easy attacks in the runup to the debate.  

In a new TV ad released Tuesday, Markey blasted Gomez for trying to spin himself as “a new kind of Republican” in this blue state, arguing he’s been deliberately opaque about his positions on hot-button issues like Social Security, gun control, and reproductive rights.

Indeed, since Day 1, Gomez has wobbled along a razor-thin line between showing his respect for the national GOP and painting himself as an outside-the-beltway moderate who isn’t beholden to narrow party interests. That’s meant campaigning with erstwhile maverick Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona one day, while accepting the fundraising efforts of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky the next.

Meanwhile, he hopes to show voters that Markey’s 36 years in Washington have left him out of touch with the state’s needs. The campaign has complained that the congressman spends most of his time living in his house in the D.C. suburb of Chevy Chase, Md., and released an ad Wednesday showing Markey stumbling through an answer to a reporter’s question about why his tax rate is so low.

The polls have consistently put Markey up in the race, with a June 2 survey from the New England College giving him a 12 point advantage. Despite the Democrat’s lead, however, the Cook Political Report announced last week that it had moved its prediction for the race from “leaning Democrat” to “toss up” because of the volatility of special election turnout.

The latest NEC poll confirms that economic issues loom large for likely voters, with unemployment, the federal deficit, and holding down taxes rated as their three top concerns.

Those are issues on which Gomez can come out swinging. 

"He'll want to go after Markey and really put him on the defensive," says Professor La Raja of the University of Massachusetts. "He doesn't have much time left in this election – this is the moment to start taking some risks." 

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