In last Gomez-Markey debate, distinct styles but fuzzy policy differences (+video)
Policy differences were nuanced between Democrat Ed Markey and the GOP's Gabriel Gomez in Tuesday's debate, the last before the US Senate election in Massachusetts. But the candidates' styles – policy master vs. fresh-faced outsider – could not be more distinct.
With a week remaining until the June 25 special election for John Kerry’s former US Senate seat in Massachusetts, the two candidates met Tuesday night in a debate that set the tone for the final days of the campaign: energetic, divisive, and at times downright petty.Skip to next paragraph
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As the conversation swept from NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden to the candidates’ tax returns to the merits of affirmative action, Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez bickered over policy nuances that in other states might be reserved for a Democratic Party primary.
Mr. Markey told Mr. Gomez, for instance, that he was galled by the fact that the Republican did not support a ban on the sale of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
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“You’ve been completely misrepresenting my view on gun control,” Gomez shot back, citing his own support for legislation requiring extended background checks for potential gun owners – a bill that only four Republican senators voted for earlier this year. “I’m the one who’s going against the NRA,” he added.
And when the debate turned to affirmative action, both candidates rushed to support the policy.
“I don’t think we’ve reached the day yet where we can say that race doesn’t play a role” in public life, Markey said, while Gomez told the audience that “everybody should have equal opportunity to achieve the American dream.”
That provided a strange twist to the debate, says Marc Landy, a political scientist at Boston College, because even many Democrats are skittish about supporting affirmative action and the topic has not been heavily discussed in this campaign so far. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard a Republican express that kind of support,” he says.
But if the candidates’ messages were sometimes hard to parse, the stylistic differences between the two were prominent. Gomez was the charmer, tugging his personal story – as a businessman, a Navy SEAL, and an immigrant – toward center stage on nearly every question. Meanwhile Markey, an 18-term congressman, played the policy wonk – unshakeable in his positions, encyclopedic on his knowledge of Beltway politics.
But Gomez also displayed a new nimbleness on issues of policy, particularly national security, says Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science and international studies department at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. “If you’ve been watching him progress since the primaries, you see there’s been a huge amount of improvement as a candidate in his ability to answer questions and not rely on canned one-liners.”
The candidates had substantive exchanges on National Security Agency surveillance – both support prosecution of self-described whistleblower Edward Snowden – and how best to wind down the long US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.