Gabriel E. Gomez sought to distance himself from the national Republican Party, using Tuesday’s second US Senate debate to embrace some key Democratic initiatives, but rival Edward J. Markey countered that, on too many issues, Gomez lines up with conservatives.
Gomez, as in the first debate, was the more aggressive of the two, turning nearly every question into an attack on Representative Markey and his nearly four decades in Washington. Markey, who is leading in the polls two weeks before the election, chose not to respond directly to most barbs, instead proclaiming his own Democratic bona fides.
The topics covered during the hourlong debate in Springfield focused on a range of serious policy questions, and there were few openly combative exchanges. The matchup did, however, illuminate several stark policy differences on issues including taxes, the environment, and restrictions on political spending.
Perhaps the most surprising moments came when Gomez unexpectedly announced his support for two Democratic bills, one that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour and another that would ensure pay equity for women in the workplace. He embraced the bills as he scrambled to push back against Markey’s attempts to paint him as too far to the right for Massachusetts.
“I think we should increase it to 10 dollars, but I think the problem is that you think that is what is going to satisfy people, and the reality is that people don’t want to just earn 10 dollars per hour,” Gomez said. “They want to have a chance at an American dream.”
Markey shot back: “That’s not the dream. That’s just the beginning of the dream.”
Later, the debate turned to the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit companies from retaliating against women who inquire about pay disparities and make it easier for women to sue for damages in cases of discrimination.
Last year, Senate Republicans, including Scott Brown, blocked the measure, saying it would lead to needless lawsuits. But Gomez said he would support it.
As he did throughout the debate, Gomez used the issue to heap scorn on Washington and, by extension, on Markey. “I think it’s a disgrace that we even have to have an act that makes women equal with men,” Gomez said. “It’s just common sense.”
Markey, by contrast, struck a far less pugilistic tone.
“It should be a right and not a privilege that a woman is paid the same as a man for the same work,” he said. He added that the gender gap in pay is “morally wrong.”
The debate was hosted by WGBY-TV, Springfield’s public television station. Although it was streamed live on the Internet, it was not shown on television in Boston, meaning its impact on the race could be limited to Western Massachusetts. The candidates have one more debate, in Boston on June 18, before the June 25 special election to fill the seat that John F. Kerry left to become secretary of state.
Two recent polls show Markey with a seven percentage-point lead over Gomez, although one of those polls suggested that Gomez has been surging in recent weeks.
For much of the debate, Gomez’s party affiliation was a main flashpoint. When the two debated gun control, Gomez said he was “ashamed” that only four Republicans backed a bill he supports to expand background checks for gun buyers. He noted that the NRA opposes the bill and said that, as a former Navy SEAL, he would have credibility on the issue in the Senate.
‘I’m somebody who is going to put people and their country before party and politics. That’s who I am.’
Markey responded by hammering Gomez for opposing broader measures to ban
assault weapons and high-
capacity magazines, two issues that have been at the center of his campaign. Markey pointed out that the narrower measure Gomez backs to expand background checks is cosponsored by Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia.
“We’re Massachusetts,” Markey said. “We’re not the laggards. We’re the leaders.”
“We have to pass tough gun laws and say no to the NRA,” he added. “And I want to go to the Senate to play the role of someone who is fighting the NRA on a daily basis.”
During an exchange about the environment, Gomez again distanced himself from the GOP, calling himself a “green Republican” and said that, when it comes to climate change, “there are people in my party who deny science.”
He added, however, that he would support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, a project fiercely opposed by many environmentalists. The proposed extension would bring oil from Canadian tar sands through the American heartland to Texas.
While Gomez argued the project could create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil, Markey said it depends on the “dirtiest oil in the world,” which would be shipped overseas. “What’s in it for the US?” he asked. “Where’s the economic benefit?”
As the two squabbled over taxes, Gomez said he would not rule out eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction, which is popular with many homeowners, as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code.
“I’m for putting everything on the table and discussing it,” Gomez said. “I have no preconditions for discussing it.”
Markey said he would not support elimination of that deduction and argued that any tax overhaul should begin by reversing Bush-era tax cuts that he said disproportionately benefited the rich.
“We have to begin with the mistakes that have been made over the last decade to make sure everyone pays their fair share,” Markey said.
The two also staked out opposing positions on Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that opened the way for unlimited spending on elections by corporations and labor unions.
Gomez defended the decision, saying “it’s just free speech,” while Markey called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of the United States.”Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.