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With Debate Looming, Markey And Gomez Try Out Messages

BOSTON — With Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez preparing to meet in their first debate Wednesday night, the two campaigns on Tuesday previewed the messages they hope to beam into voters’ living rooms.

Gomez, after touring the Polartec active wear company in Lawrence, called for a lower corporate tax rate and took Markey to task for the federal government’s deficit spending.

Gabriel Gomez, left, and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (WBUR file photos)

Gabriel Gomez, left, and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (WBUR file photos)

“Our kids, my kids, your kids are going to be straddled with a $17 trillion debt,” he said.

Democratic officials, meanwhile, unveiled Markey’s new television advertisement — “Not True” — in a press conference at the candidate’s campaign headquarters in Charlestown.

The spot attempts to tie Gomez, who casts himself as a moderate, to the national GOP on guns, abortion and Social Security.

“Just yesterday, Gabriel Gomez claimed to be a ‘new Republican,'” said John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, at the press conference. “But on the big issues facing…our commonwealth, Gabriel Gomez holds positions that are exactly the same as the national Republican Party.”

A new Markey radio ad released Wednesday morning took an even sharper tone, saying the debate is “a chance to finally get some answers from Gabriel Gomez” on several issues that have dogged the Republican in recent weeks. Among them: his position on an amendment that would have limited birth control access, a controversial tax break he took in exchange for preserving the facade of his home and national GOP support for an advertising campaign backing Gomez.

The back-and-forth came as a new poll out of New England College gave Markey a 52-40 lead in the race.

The survey suggests growth for Markey, who led by single digits in several previous polls.

The New England College poll has both candidates faring well among party regulars — Markey claims 75 percent of Democrats and Gomez gets 76 percent of the Republican vote.

But with Democrats outnumbering Republicans three-to-one, Gomez needs a sizable lead among independents to make the race competitive. And the survey gives him only a slight edge — 47 to 44 percent.

“If you just look at the percentages, Gabriel Gomez is competing with Ed Markey, but Mr. Gomez is simply drawing from a much smaller pool of voters,” said Ben Tafoya, director of the college’s polling center.

Gomez has jumped from issue to issue in recent weeks, attempting to stir an electorate that has exhibited little of the energy that propelled Republican Scott Brown to an upset over Democrat Martha Coakley in the last special election for a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat in 2010.

The New England College poll suggests Gomez’s latest push — on deficit spending and tax cuts — could get some traction.

The survey asked voters to name their most important issue from a list of seven. Some 23 percent chose the federal deficit — ranking second on the list — and 17 percent picked holding down taxes — ranking third. And voters who chose those issues overwhelmingly favored Gomez.

But the top-ranked concern was “lowering unemployment,” picked by 25 percent of respondents. And those voters backed Markey by a 72-12 margin.

Just 5 percent of voters named “women’s rights” their top issue. But Markey has made abortion a central issue in the campaign.

His new television ad includes tape of Gomez saying “I’m personally pro-life.” The announcer intones that “Gomez says he could support a Supreme Court justice who’d overturn Roe v. Wade,” the landmark decision that legalized abortion.

A graphic on the screen cites a March 12 Republican primary debate. And Gomez, in that debate, said he would not have an abortion “litmus test” when it comes to confirming Supreme Court justices — suggesting he could back a candidate who would repeal Roe v. Wade.

The ad also includes video of Gomez saying “I think you can think about increasing the retirement age” for Social Security and “I don’t believe we need to do an assault weapons ban.”

Former firefighters union chief Bob McCarthy, at the press conference unveiling the ad, said a ban on assault weapons would help prevent school shootings. “We saw what happened in Newtown, Connecticut,” he said. “We don’t want that ever to happen again.”

The Markey campaign has repeatedly invoked the Newtown tragedy.

Gomez spokesman Will Ritter’s response to the ad: “Congressman Ed Markey is lifelong politician who thinks he’s entitled to this Senate seat, and is now desperately trying to deceive the people of Massachusetts with negative ads that simply are not true and don’t say a word about Markey’s positions on the issues Massachusetts voters care about.”

Ritter pointed out that Gomez supports universal background checks for gun purchases. And he likened the Republican candidate to President Obama on Social Security, suggesting he — like the president — would entertain a hike in the retirement age in order to keep the program solvent.

Walsh, the Democratic Party chairman, suggested that Markey would try to put the issues highlighted in the ad near the center of the debate Wednesday night.

Ritter said Gomez will talk about government spending and the economy.

The debate is sponsored by WBZ-TV and The Boston Globe. The candidates will face off two more times — June 11 and June 18.

Between those debates: a visit from Obama June 12 to raise money and stump for Markey.

The election is June 25.

Fred Thys contributed to this report.

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