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Massachusetts Senate race Debate 2: Gomez plays the 'independent' card (+video)

Republican Gabriel Gomez, underdog in the Massachusetts special election for a US Senate seat, sought during Tuesday's debate to present himself as a fierce independent. Front-runner and US Rep. Edward Markey dove into his personal backstory to highlight his non-Washington side.

By Correspondent / June 12, 2013

The second Massachusetts Senate race debate between Democratic Congressman Edward Markey, right, and Republican Gabriel Gomez Tuesday night, in the WBGY TV studio in Springfield, Mass.

Dave Roback/Springfield-Republican/AP

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Boston

As the two candidates for John Kerry’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts blazed across nearly a dozen subjects in their second debate Tuesday night, a single question seemed to hover just outside the frame: What style of senator would each man be?

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On the Republican side, businessman Gabriel Gomez repeatedly sought to frame himself as a fiercely independent thinker, ready to buck his own party on issues such as gun control, gay marriage, and equal pay.

Before a small audience in the WBGY TV studio in the western Massachusetts city of Springfield, he called himself a “green Republican,” said he would “talk across the aisle” to try to pass legislation on expanded background checks for gun owners, and promised a yes vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

For longtime congressman Edward Markey (D), on the other hand, the debate was about giving his methodically delivered platform points a human face.

“I’m the first person in my family to ever go to college,” he told the audience, explaining that he drove an ice cream truck to pay his own way through school.

With public interest in the race low statewide and with recent polls showing Mr. Markey’s advantage in the race in the high single digits, both candidates scrambled to keep the criticisms against them from calcifying as the race marches into its final two weeks.

“These debates aren’t game-changers, but they help with messaging,” says Spencer Kimball, a campaign consultant who also teaches in the communication studies department at Emerson College in Boston. Mr. Gomez in particular, he says, “has tightened up his message to voters” since his fresh-faced arrival onto the political scene in the primary campaign earlier this year.

Indeed, Gomez’s message was easy to identify Tuesday night. He spoke several times of placing “people above party and politics” and putting fresh legs on the field in Washington D.C. He needled Markey repeatedly for his 37 years in Congress, noting that when the congressman was first elected in 1976, Gerald Ford was president and Gomez himself was an 11-year-old playing Little League.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, repeating a favorite line, “but you are Washington, D.C.”

As the debate skimmed across gun control, taxes, national security, and equal pay, Gomez frequently refused to tie himself to a specific promise or position, instead arguing that he would consider each issue as it came before him – regardless of the GOP line.

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