BOSTON — The first debate between the candidates hoping to fill the U.S. Senate seat of John Kerry was a heated affair.
Republican Gabriel Gomez and Democrat Ed Markey clashed Wednesday night over health care, national security, guns and more.
Gomez, in only the fourth debate of his political life, came out swinging at Markey, who was first elected to the U.S. House 37 years ago.
“And Congressman Markey,” Gomez said, “after 37 years in D.C., welcome back to Boston.”
Gomez kept coming at him, the next time on a darker note: He accused Markey of politicizing the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“Now, you’re the first and only political candidate to invoke the Newtown massacre for political gain,” Gomez said. “That is beyond disgusting. I’m a father of four young kids. And as a Navy SEAL, I know what happens when the weapons fall into the hands of the wrong person.”
Gomez has objected to a Markey ad pointing out that Gomez opposes a ban on weapons, such as the one used in Newtown. Markey defended his point.
“I’m not linking Mr. Gomez to Newtown. That’s a ludicrous position which he has, but it’s not as ludicrous as his position to oppose banning assault weapons,” Markey said. “We need that ban.”
When Gomez pointed out that he supports expanding background checks on gun sales, Markey said that’s not good enough for Massachusetts.
“That’s background checks. That’s something that senators from West Virginia can support. We’re Massachusetts, we’re special. We’re supposed to be the leader,” Markey said. “We know that assault weapons should be off the streets. We know that high-capacity magazines should be banned. That is a huge difference between what you and I are promising the people of Massachusetts that we will do when we go down to Washington.”
The lively back and forth on gun control took up the first 10 minutes of the debate.
Markey’s experience in Washington has prepared him for debates. Wednesday night, Gomez, the novice to politics, did what a regular person would do: He looked at his rival and at moderator Jon Keller. Markey looked into the camera.
When the candidates were asked what they think being in the middle class means, they both seemed out of touch.
“If you look at the median income in the state, it’s about $80,000, that’s the median, but it can go up to $200,000,” Markey said.
But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income in Massachusetts from 2007 to 2011 was $66,000. Gomez was equally off the mark.
“Middle class is around between $80,000 to $150,000 to $175,000,” he said.
At times, Gomez, a private equity manager, pushed points that exposed his lack of experience on Capitol Hill. For example, his claim that in the last 20 years, Markey has not authored any legislation that has been signed into law.
“Now, in the private sector, where I come from, the last thing you would do [is] ask for a raise or even a promotion,” he said.
In Congress, though, sometimes you can be a leader on legislation in the House, but it’s a similar Senate bill that gets adopted. Markey tried to make that point.
“I mean, Mr. Gomez, you couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “Just in the last couple of years I passed a bill that created the requirement that we actually have a plan to find the cure for Alzheimer’s. That’s now the law. That’s my bill.”
As Markey touted his accomplishments in Washington, Gomez made the argument that Markey is part of the polarization in D.C.
“It’s dysfunctional and it is a failure and there’s a lack of transparency,” Gomez said. “And there is an overbearing arrogant attitude about D.C., about all of D.C., and you’ve been down there for 40 years, congressman. You are basically Washington, D.C.”
Markey has been in Washington 36 years. He did his best last night to ensure his two next two years are in the Senate. Gomez did his best to keep Markey in the House.