US Senate hopefuls Democrat Edward J. Markey and Republican Gabriel E. Gomez meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the first of three high-stakes television debates.
Markey, a long-time congressman, will go toe-to-toe with Gomez, a private equity investor, at the WBZ-TV studios in Allston in a debate sponsored by WBZ and The Boston Globe.
Less than three weeks before the election, the hour-long forum gives each a chance to introduce or reintroduce himself to voters, knock his opponent, and attempt to cast the storyline of the compressed race in his favor. But, as with any live television event, opportunities abound for the candidates to stumble.
The debate will air live on WBZ-TV and will stream online at www.cbsboston.com, www.boston.com, and www.bostonglobe.com. It will also air on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM.
Here are live updates from the debate:
7:55 p.m.: Abortion is now the topic of the debate. Gomez says, “I’m Catholic and I’m personally prolife.” But, he says, “I’m not going down there to change any laws.”
Markey notes that Planned Parenthood has endorsed him and emphasizes he supports abortion rights. He asserts that Gomez could support a Supreme Court justice who might overturn Roe v. Wade.
7:50 p.m.: Gomez attacks Markey for being too partisan, saying he has voted with his party 99 percent of the time.
“I have dozens of bills I have passed with Republicans over the years,” Markey replies. “This whole idea that Mr. Gomez is going to be bipartisan and my basic philososphy is not bipartisan is totally wrong.”
7:49 p.m.: The question turns to immigration reform: Should skilled workers be afforded more leeway to stay here than unskilled workers? Markey does not intially answer question, saying he supports a pathway to citizenship. He says we should find a way to keep skilled workers here as long as it does not threaten the jobs of people who are already American citizens.
Gomez does not intially answer the question either. But he says, like Markey, the US should find a way to keep skilled workers here as long as it does not hurt American jobs.
“There should be a pathway to citizenship,” Gomez says.
7:42 p.m.: The discussion turns to three issues that have been in the news from Washington, D.C.: the Internal Revenue Service reportedly targeting small-government groups for greater scrutiny, the controversy over the Department of Justice obtaining the calling records of a number of reporters and editors at the Associated Press, and the attacks last year on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“I do believe Attorney General Eric Holder should resign,” Gomez says.
“I think anyone who did anything wrong at the IRS should be found and fired immediately,” Markey says.
Gomez uses the discussion to attack Markey for his long tenure in the US Capitol. The “common thread here: D.C. is broken,” Gomez says. “You are basically Washington, D.C., I’m sorry sir, but you are.”
That’s been the distillation of Gomez’s attack on Markey so far.
7:37 p.m.: Gomez pushes Markey on a no-fly zone over Syria. Markey is more cautious.
“If it’s done wrong, it could lead to military escalation on the ground that could pull in the United States of America,” Markey says.
7:35 p.m.: The debate turns to foreign policy. Markey says for him to support an armed intervention with US troops, there would need to be a direct threat to national security, no other option and a coalition of other countries. He says US troops on the ground in Syria, where a civil war has been roiling the region, would be “a big mistake.”
“I have a very unique perspective on national security,” Gomez says, citing his military experience as an aircraft carrier pilot and a Navy SEAL. “Putting troops on the ground is the last option,” he says.
Gomez says Syria is Iran’s “last and only friend in the Middle East” and adds that the US has taken too long do something in the region. “At a minimum, we should have a no-fly zone,” Gomez says.
“I think Secretary of State John Kerry is doing a very good job over there,” Markey says.
7:30 p.m.: The discussion continues to focus on health care. Markey praises both the Affordable Care Act and the Massachusetts health care law. “You can have a robust economy and you can make sure everybody has health care as well,” he says, referring to the state law.
Gomez continues to criticize Markey on the national law. “You just show that you don’t spend much time here in Massachusetts,” Gomez said, saying that people in the state don’t like the law.
Markey says he is “talking to everybody in every corner of the Commonwealth.” and says they want to make the health care law better, not “take it off the books.”
7:24 p.m.:Both candidates are significantly more animated than they were during debates they attended during the primary election.
7:23 p.m.: Needham asks about areas in the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s marquee health care law, that need to be reformed. Gomez cites the medical device tax, that, he says, hurts businesses in Massachusetts. Markey says he is opposed to the medical device tax as well, but to repeal it, there needs to be replacement of the revenue.
7:18 p.m.:Gomez calls Markey’s record on national security “weak,” noting he voted against the creation of the Department of Homeland security along with voting against two resolutions honoring the victims of 9/11. Markey responds that he has voted for a number of resolutions honoring 9/11 victims. And, the Congressman says, he didn’t support the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security because it was flawed in how it treated collective bargaining.
7:13 p.m.: After the debate continues to pivot on gun control, Keller changes the topic to the middle class. Markey cites a number of middle class tax breaks he has voted in favor of, along with other legislation that he says has helped allow the middle class to prosper.
Asked for his plan for the middle class, Gomez says: “less taxes equal more jobs.”
“I come from the private sector, I understand the middle class,” he says, before attacking Markey for not passing legislation recently.
Markey ticks through a number of pieces of legislation he says he has written and passed in the last few years.
7:06 p.m.: The debate turns to gun control. “I want to go down to Washington to fight the NRA,” Markey says. “I oppose the NRA on expanded background checks,” Gomez responds, saying we “need to fix this problem.” He reiterates his support for the bipartisan piece of legislation that would expand mandatory background checks for gun purchases. Markey argues that the bill is the minimum that ought to be done on gun control.
7:03 p.m.: The debate has begun. The first question, from Cynthia Needham, is to Gomez. “Is your opponent’s character an issue in this race?” she asks. Gomez begins by thanking the debate sponsors and then saying, to Markey, “After 37 years in Washington, D.C., welcome to Boston.”
Markey ignores the knock against him and begins his answer by honing in the issues, noting that Gomez is against a ban on assault weapons, while he supports one.
“Mr Gomez opposes any further burdens on the billionaires,” Markey says, adding that he supports “tax fairness.”
6:51 p.m.: The candidates are getting set up with microphones and, in just a few minutes, the debate will commence.
6:30 p.m.: Both candidates have arrived at the WBZ studios here in Allston. The debate begins in 30 minutes.
6:00 p.m.: The debate begins in 60 minutes. About 150 sign-wielding Markey supporters, many of them members of organized labor, line the street outside the WBZ studios. Steven A. Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, walks along the street, shaking hands.
“Many of us worked very hard for Elizabeth Warren,” Tolman tells the Globe. “We believe she needs a partner like Ed.” He says his members are taking this special election very seriously and says his members appreciate Markey’s long record of support for labor during his more than 36 year tenure in Congress.
No Gomez supporters are visible.