Democrat Edward J. Markey and Republican Gabriel E. Gomez are set to face off tonight here in Brighton in the third and final televised debate of the US Senate general election.
Markey, a longtime US Representative from Malden, 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 a week from today: June 25.
The debate, sponsored by the Boston Media Consortium, will take place at the studios of WGBH, Boston’s PBS news station and the producer of programs like FRONTLINE and Antiques Roadshow.
The debate is set to be moderated by R.D. Sahl of Boston University. The format calls for no opening statements. In the first section, Sahl will ask the candidates questions on domestic policy. The second section will have the candidates asking questions of each other. In the third section, Sahl will ask the candidates questions about foreign policy and defense. Both Gomez and Markey will have one minute for a closing statement.
At last week's debate, Gomez did not rule out eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction, popular with many homeowners, as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code. Markey opposes eliminating that deduction and his campaign has knocked Gomez for his position on the issue.
Fifteen minutes until the debate begins. There is a much larger media presence here than at the previous two debates.
The candidates have taken the stage here at WGBH studios in Brighton. Gomez speaks his sound check by counting up in Spanish. Markey counts down in English.
"The goal of the next hour is a focused exchange of ideas that will give voters a chance to see where the candidates stand," Sahl says as the final debate of the Massachusetts Senate special election begins.
Sahl asks Gomez how voters can trust him if they don't know more about his business and military career. Gomez does not answer the question, speaking instead about how he would put people before party and politics.
Sahl presses his question to Gomez again. The Cohasset Republican answers by recounting his biography. "I had the honor to serve nine years in the military, in the Navy," he says. "I think the people of Massachusetts have a clear idea of what I've done in the service" and in the private sector, Gomez says.
"Are you not a tired, old Democrat" after 37 years in the House? Sahl asks Markey, reflecting Markey's claim that Gomez supports tired, old Republican ideas.
Gomez says Markey has spent millions of dollars "misrepresenting" his views. Gomez then ticks through where he stands on the issues: personally pro-life, but not going to change current abortion laws; won't change Social Security or Medicare for those using the programs or nearing the age where they can.
Next up is the NSA surveillance programs revealed this month -- Sahl asks if they go too far. Gomez says there is a fine line between privacy and security and believes the NSA has "gone too broad." Markey says "we've got to be tough on terrorism, very tough, but we can't trample on the Constitution." He advocates making sure there are "protections" in place to protect innocent Americans' privacy.
The debate has turned to Gomez's private sector record. Markey says the private equity investor needs to release more records about it, while Gomez fiercely defends his career.
Next up is affirmative action. Gomez indicates he favors certain affirmative action policies. Markey, too, says he supports affirmative action.
Now the candidates get to ask each other questions.
Gomez asks Markey if there is a time he has voted against his party to reduce taxes. Markey speaks about tax breaks he has voted in favor of and then says "no I did not vote for those Republican tax breaks" that went to oil companies and the rich.
Markey notes Gomez is against a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. He then asks Gomez in what instance a civilian would need a weapon that could shoot a hundred bullets in under two minutes. Gomez notes his support of expanded federal background checks for gun purchases, but doesn't answer the question.
Gomez asks Markey about term limits. Markey notes Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who was elected to the Senate in 1986, campaigned for Gomez during this campaign. "Did you ask John McCain to leave the Senate?" Markey asks.
"We're both running for the Senate for the first time," Markey says.
Gomez says he told McCain he supports term limits.
The Syrian civil war roiling the Middle East is up next. "As we enter into this Syrian thicket, we have to make sure" the groups we back have been vetted, Markey says. "Under no circumstances should American troops be on the ground in Syria. That would be a historic mistake," the Congressman adds.
Gomez says Syria "is Iran's last ally" and that the US needs to align itself with the rebel group that is going to best promote democracy in the Middle East order to pressure Iran. Gomez advocates, as he has before, a no-fly zone over Syria.
Both Gomez and Markey express skepticism about the moderate credentials of Iran's newly elected President, Hassan Rowhani.
Has the sacrifice in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan been worth it? Sahl asks. Gomez says it's wrong to turn this into a political question. Markey says it will "take years to know" whether the wars were worth it.
What have we learned from Iraq and Afghanistan? Sahl asks. "We've learned that we can't instill our exact idea of what democracy" is on other countries, Gomez says. Markey says we've learned "how hard it is to impose any kind of democracy" on any country. Both say they support pulling troops out of Afghanistan.
Conversation turns to China's reportedly vast cyber-espionage efforts against the United States. Both Gomez and Markey say the US needs to focus on the issue.
Drones are up next. What are your rules for drone strikes? Sahl asks. Gomez says "if somebody switches sides," and are overseas, they are absolutely a target for drones. Markey says there has to be a high bar for using drones to kill people overseas, that other options have to have been exhausted.
Each candidate will now make a closing statement. "I'm running because I want to serve," Gomez says. "If we continue down the path we've [been on] for the last 37 years, our kids will not have an opportunity" to achieve their dreams, he says. "I want to go there and make our Congress as good as the American people," he says, asking for a chance to serve the people of the Commonwealth.
Markey uses the beginning of statement to ding Gomez on his position on just about every issue. "I'm going to go down to Washington to protect a more fair society," Markey says.
The debate has now concluded. The election, as Sahl notes, is set for a week from today, June 25. The two candidates will now meet the press.