Last night’s Senate debate between Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez was a schoolyard scramble to see who could make the “old and stale” label stick. Gomez says it’s Markey who’s old and stale because he’s been in Congress for 37 years. Markey says it’s Gomez, because he’s touting old and stale Republican ideas, like opposition to assault weapons, women’s rights to choose, taxing the rich, and more. From the voter’s perspective, all the themes the candidates have sounded during this special election race are old and stale. Precious little new ground was broken on either side. If you’ve been following the race, you’ve heard it all before.
A new wrinkle came on Gomez support for limiting Senators to two terms. Markey asserted he was sure Gomez hadn’t pushed the point when 30+ year Senator John McCain had come to Massachusetts to campaign for Gomez. Gomez insisted that yes, he did say that to McCain. Markey, incredulous, said “No, you did not.” Back and forth, but score one for Markey. Reporters, I am sure, will be seeking comments today from McCain.
Markey also had a strong moment on Gomez’ opposition to a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, pushing Gomez to answer the question “Where would a civilian need a gun that could shoot 200 bullets in two minutes?” Gomez never answered.
But Markey never directly answered Gomez’ challenge to name one tax supported by Democrats that Markey had voted against. (Instead, Markey talked about voting to cut taxes by $1 trillion over his time in Congress.) Gomez reinforced his differences with the GOP on gun purchase background checks, global warming, and gay marriage, and drove home the point that he would “tell my party where they are wrong.” He linked this back to his main message, referring innumerable times that Markey has been in Congress for 37 years. Gomez’ new riff on that was urging voters to give him 17 months to show what he can do or turn him out (in the next regular election to fill the seat held by John Kerry). His sense of what he could do was hubris but an effective debate line.
Markey reflected more substance on issues, the kind of knowledge that comes with multiple years of experience. He reminded voters of Gomez’ willingness to approve a pro-life appointee to the Supreme Court, his openness to trimming future Social Security increases through a so-called chained CPI, his inclination to water down Wall Street reforms. And he scored on Gomez’ unwillingness to name the clients he had helped fund when working for Advent International. (Gomez went small bore, scoffing that there were no clients, only investors, but was reluctant to identify companies those investors had put money into. )
Gomez’ closing was cliche ridden: “about the future not the past,” about “people not politics,” making “Congress as good as the American people.” Markey’s close plowed familiar territory as well, staying on message with the tenacity of an endodontist doing root canal. Thankfully, Markey is a better legislator than he is a candidate.
Whether you believe polls showing Gomez just seven points behind or others showing Markey 13 points ahead, the outcome will likely hinge on next Tuesday’s GOTV (get-out-the-vote) effort in a low turnout election. Remember, there are now many more unenrolled voters in Massachusetts than Democrats and Republicans combined.
This has been a paint-by-numbers, joyless race, and I, for one, will be glad when it is over. But the stakes are too high to skip it. The anti-Mitch McConnell forces are wafer thin now and the at-risk seats in 2014 now portend a possible Republican majority. For all of his rhetoric, Gomez would likely be no more independent from McConnell’s control than was Scott Brown and probably less so as a newbie with no legislative experience at any level. Ed Markey, notwithstanding his devoted partisanship and sometimes tiresome rhetoric, has demonstrated his ability to work behind the scenes across the aisle, and would be a far better choice for the people of Massachusetts.
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