Audio report above by WFCR’s Henry Epp. Text report below The Associated Press reporters Bob Salserg and Steve LeBlanc.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — U.S. Senate hopefuls Gabriel Gomez and Edward Markey toned down their attacks on each other while still drawing sharp distinctions in their second debate Tuesday.
Despite the more muted tone, the two still clashed on everything from tax policy to the National Security Agency’s collection of billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records.
Gomez said Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who claimed responsibility for revealing the surveillance programs, should be held accountable.
“Is Snowden a hero or a traitor? I think it’s going to be determined after we find out more facts,” Gomez said. “But if his information … puts anybody at risk, he’s by far not a hero. He is a traitor.”
Markey said Snowden should accept responsibility, but added that Americans shouldn’t have to choose between security and privacy.
“We have to make sure that we have in place the privacy protections so that as law enforcement officials are looking for the guilty needle that there is not a compromise of the innocent haystack of e-mails and phone calls that all Americans are making,” Markey said.
Markey also seized on Gomez’s apparent willingness to leave open the possibility of eliminating the federal home mortgage deduction to help close the deficit.
Gomez said while he hoped the deduction would stay, “going into anything with preconditions almost guarantees failure.”
“I do have a precondition,” Markey responded. “And it is that home mortgage deduction should not be on the table. People should be able to afford the home of their dreams.”
Both candidates said they support a $10 federal minimum wage, but Gomez said the larger goal should be to help Americans aim even higher.
“People don’t want to earn just $10 an hour,” the former Navy SEAL said. “They want a chance at the American Dream.”
Markey said that for many Americans, winning a $10 an hour minimum wage is a first step toward that dream. He also said the nation should end tax breaks for oil companies and other corporations.
“Subsidizing the oil industry is like subsidizing a fish to swim and a bird to fly,” Markey said. “You simply don’t have to do it.”
Gomez said he supports closing corporate and personal tax loopholes, and backs lowering the federal corporate tax rate to encourage companies to bring more of their money into the country to be taxed.
Gomez also said taxpayers “should also be able to do our own taxes in a simple, efficient way.”
The two again sparred on gun control.
Gomez said “a lot of people in my party are wrong on gun control,” and that he was “ashamed” only four Republicans voted for a Senate bill that called for wider gun background checks. Markey said the background checks were only a start. He criticized Gomez for not supporting a federal assault weapons ban.
In one of the evening’s sharper exchanges Gomez said it was “beyond disgusting” that Markey raised the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in a television ad that faulted Gomez for not supporting a ban on high capacity magazine clips.
“To think that you are the only political candidate to actually invoke the Newtown massacre for political gain is beyond disgusting,” Gomez said.
Markey responded by saying, “Mr. Gomez thinks that when we talk about the differences between the two of us on very important issues, that somehow or other we are engaging in negative politics. We are not.”
Markey and Gomez also split on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring oil from western Canada to Texas.
Gomez said the project would create jobs, while Markey said the United States would end up bearing all the environmental risk while the oil itself is dumped onto the international market.
The two were also asked what they could do to help improve the economy in western Massachusetts. The unemployment rate in Springfield tops 10 percent, much higher than the state as a whole.
Gomez said one way to protect local jobs is to repeal the medical device tax included in President Barack Obama’s 2010 federal health care law.
Markey said he supported job-creating projects in western Massachusetts including the Union Station regional transportation project in Springfield.
Both Markey and Gomez said they would support changes in Senate rules that allow even a single lawmaker to block legislation.
“We need to make sure these big issues get the debate they deserve,” said Markey.
Gomez said the filibuster can be an effective tool if used properly. Referring to a recent 12-hour filibuster, Gomez added: “I could go a lot longer than that without having to go to the bathroom,” citing his Navy SEAL experience.
Asked if they would support changes to federal marijuana laws, Markey said he supported the ballot question in Massachusetts allowing the medicinal use of marijuana.
Gomez said the question should be left to states instead of the federal government, but he would personally not support anything beyond the medicinal use of marijuana.
Tuesday’s debate was sponsored by a consortium of Springfield media outlets and took place in the studios of WGBY-TV. It took place a day after a Suffolk University poll showed Markey has the backing of 48 percent of voters compared with 41 percent for Gomez.
On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to visit Boston to attend a rally for Markey in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood.
A final debate is scheduled for June 18.
The election is June 25.