With only a week left before voters go to the polls, the two candidates for US Senate let loose tonight with their full arsenals in a heated third and final debate, driving home arguments that have resonated throughout the compressed special election calendar.
Democratic nominee Edward J. Markey repeatedly pushed Republican nominee Gabriel E. Gomez on gun control, while Gomez swatted at Markey for being an entrenched member of Congress who has consistently backed higher taxes.
“If you go down there, Congressman, nothing changes,” Gomez said during the debate, which was held at the studios of WGBH-TV in Boston.
Markey knocked Gomez for resisting enhanced gun control legislation, repeatedly challenging him to answer why he opposed policies to curtail the sale of guns that can empty 100 bullets inside two minutes.
And the 37-year congressman rebuffed Gomez’s line of attack on term limits by pointing out that Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who took office in 1987, had recently campaigned in Massachusetts for Gomez.
Gomez said he had told McCain that “he should be term-limited.” Markey challenged the statement.
“No, you did not,” said Markey.
“Yes, I did,” said Gomez.
Moderator R.D. Sahl asked Markey, “Are you calling him a liar?”
“I’m saying that did not happen,” said Markey.
Markey has held solid leads in public polls, including a 13-point edge in a Globe/University of New Hampshire poll taken last week.
Markey came heavily equipped with a list of grievances against Gomez, charging him with opposing increased Wall Street regulation, abortion rights, higher taxes on the wealthy, and bulked-up gun control.
Gomez argued back that Markey had been “egregious” in his “misrepresentation” of Gomez’s record. Markey repeatedly questioned why Gomez had not been more forthcoming in discussing his record as a private equity investor.
“We’re still waiting to find out who he worked for,” Markey said. “What are the names of those clients? It’s important.”
Gomez returned fire, challenging Markey to compare military records and questioning whether Markey understood the industry. “If you knew what private equity was, you’d know that we don’t have clients,” Gomez said, mentioning repeatedly that President Obama was an investor in Gomez’s firm, Advent.
“It’s that simple. We have investors,” he said.
Markey again struggled to articulate an instance when he had strayed from party orthodoxy and opposed tax hikes.
Gomez went further than Markey in condemning the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about the agency’s data-mining enterprise known as PRISM. Gomez said, “If he put anybody’s life in danger, he’s absolutely a traitor.” Markey said that the former official, Edward Snowden, broke the law.
Responding to a question from moderator Sahl, Markey said his address had been redacted on his tax forms due to an accountant’s error. Throughout the campaign, Markey has faced questions about whether his primary residence is in Massachusetts or Maryland.
In his closing statement, Gomez asked voters to give him 17 months – the remainder of the Senate term begun by John F. Kerry before he left to become Secretary of State – to prove that he would operate in Washington as an independent-minded Republican.
Markey and Gomez, a Cohasset private equity investor and former Navy SEAL, are vying to fill the seat formerly held by John F. Kerry, who resigned to become secretary of state. The election is next Tuesday, June 25.
Gomez, who has never held political office, is hoping to replicate the success of Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state lawmaker who won a stunning upset victory in January 2010 to fill the US Senate seat left vacant by the death of long-time Democratic senator Edward M. Kennedy. But with time running out in the campaign, Gomez, who is behind in the polls, faces what appears to be an uphill battle in the traditionally blue Bay State.
The Boston Globe reported Sunday that Markey held a solid lead over Gomez, with Markey garnering 54 perecent of votes, compared with Gomez’s 41 percent.
The Globe also reported last week that Markey had been outspending Gomez — and has received a boost from visits by President Obama, former president Bill Clinton, and other high-profile Democrats.
After the Scott Brown victory, Democrats have been adamant that they would not lose another such election. Brown failed to win reelection last year, losing to Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren.