BOSTON — The latest WBUR poll on the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts has Democratic Rep. Ed Markey with a seven-point lead over his Republican opponent, businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez. A new Suffolk University poll shows the same spread.
WBUR’s Morning Edition host Bob Oakes sat down with Markey to gauge his thoughts on the contest that appears closer than many had predicted. But first, the conversation turned to the controversy surrounding phone and Internet data mining by the U.S. government and whether the former CIA and NSA employee who admitted leaking the stories should face charges.
Ed Markey: I think it’s pretty clear that he has broken the law. And I think he’s going to have to pay the price for that. But at the same time, I do think, as the president has now said, that it’s important for the country to have a debate about this program — to make sure that there is a proper balance between privacy and security. We have to ensure that as we do protect ourselves, that we also don’t allow for an unnecessary trampling of the privacy rights of innocent Americans. And that is now the debate that we have to have in our country.
Bob Oakes: Should there be legislative changes in order to ensure that people’s civil liberties are protected?
I think that we have to ensure that there is proper oversight. We have to ensure that any of the warrants which are issued are not open-ended, do not have proper supervision to ensure that there is an ongoing protection of the liberties of Americans who are innocent.
Immigration reform. This week in the Senate, Republicans will be somewhat locked in an intra-party debate over how to proceed with immigration reform or whether to at all. As you know, some are pushing for a comprehensive overhaul, while others, conservatives, are dead-set opposed. If you were in the Senate right now, how would you be advising your GOP colleagues to get this done?
I would say to the Republicans that this is an issue that has to be resolved. And we can do so in a way that protects our borders. We can do so in a way that ensures that there are criminal background checks. But we also have to do so in a way that ensures that there is a pathway to citizenship. And so I think that some of those Republicans have already stepped up, and they are willing to work on a bipartisan basis. But over in the House of Representatives, we don’t see that kind of cooperation between the two parties. So it’s up to the Senate.
So if Republicans fail in the Senate to reach accord within their own party, this is probably dead, then?
I would say yes. It has to be demonstrated that there is a solid core of Republicans in the Senate willing to work with Democrats to resolve this issue once and for all.
Big picture. You’ve been in Congress for 37 years. Why now switch from the House to the Senate, where you’ll be a freshman once again? What’s the advantage or the allure?
In the House, the Democrats are in the minority. In the Senate, the Democrats are in the majority. So the effectiveness that I can achieve is much higher in the Senate at this particular point in time. And I’m bringing over all of my experience, all of the relationships that can go to work immediately for the state of Massachusetts in building bipartisan coalitions toward the goal of passing meaningful legislation.
Do you not feel, then, that you’ll be the senator with the least seniority?
I feel that I’ll be a senator that has more experience than any new senator in the history of the United States — more preexisting capacity to be able to build coalitions that can be successful in passing legislation, and doing so in the very first few months after I am elected.
Polls show this race is fairly close for a Massachusetts race. You have a lead, but it’s only in the single digits. Shouldn’t it be larger, given your experience, given the fact that you’re a well-known, almost four-decade-long public figure running against Gomez, who was really unknown until just a few months ago?
I’m taking nothing for granted. I’m out there every single day. And we feel good about Election Day. We have a tremendous organization that we’ve constructed all across the state. But to look at a day-by-day poll is absolutely foolish. You have to look at this over the long term pointing toward Election Day, and then that’s the only thing that really counts.
You have President Obama coming in to campaign with you [Wednesday]. Do you need his assist? Is your campaign in trouble?
Not at all. Gabriel Gomez brought in John McCain. Gabriel Gomez brought in Rudy Giuliani. And so from my campaign, we say, “Welcome, Barack Obama. Come on in.” We think that that will be a very good opportunity for the voters to see the sharp contrast that exists between Mr. Gomez and myself in terms of the values that we want to fight for down in Washington.
One more question on this before I move on: Are you worried about losing?
The thing that drives me is getting out the message on the difference between Gabriel Gomez and myself on the issues — on his support for the NRA and their opposition to banning high-capacity magazines, in his opposition to a woman’s right to choose, all the way down the line. So I’m quite confident that when people hear the difference between the two of us, that they’re going to elect someone that is going to go down and to defend Massachusetts values on the Senate floor. And because of that, I feel good about this race.
We’ve talked about your longevity. Most people seem to know you. But what is it you think people don’t yet know about Ed Markey after 37 years on Capitol Hill?
I think that most people probably don’t know that I’m the first person in my family’s history to ever go to college. They probably don’t know that I had to work my way through college driving an ice cream truck, that my mother had to stay home after her mother — my grandmother — died, so that she could raise the three younger sisters in the family. And they probably don’t know the extent to which that animates everything that I do down in Washington.
Well, before Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the social safety net was one of the girls is going to have to stay home. There’s no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. There are no programs to protect ordinary families. So that is ultimately what motivates me.