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Candidates vying to replace Ed Markey joust in debate

NEWTON — They clashed over health care, gun control, and the minimum wage.

But the mere fact that Katherine M. Clark and Frank J. Addivinola Jr. were on a debate stage together provided the biggest sparks Friday, when the candidates hoping to replace Edward J. Markey met for their only televised debate, four days before the election.

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“I don’t think that’s fair,” said Addivinola, the Republican nominee, who complained that Clark, the Democratic nominee, had turned down seven other opportunities to debate.

“Ask yourself,” Addivinola said, “why is it that we can be so arrogant to think that we’re going to be elected to office without participating in the democratic process?”

Clark, a state senator from Melrose who is heavily favored to win Tuesday’s special election to replace Markey in the US House, ignored Addivinola’s jab during the 30-minute forum on NECN.

In an interview outside the studio, she dismissed as “silly season” the idea that she should have agreed to more than one debate.

“We were hopeful to do some more,” Clark said. “But between the schedule, with the state Senate session ending, our campaign schedule, and the holidays, this is what we could work out. And I’m glad we were able to do it.”

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The candidates are running to fill the seat that Markey held from 1976 until his election to the US Senate this summer. Turnout for Tuesday’s special election is expected to be low, perhaps just 10 percent, said Secretary of State William F. Galvin.

Clark is considered the overwhelming favorite, because the district, which stretches from Woburn to Cambridge and from Revere to Southborough, is heavily Democratic and favored President Obama over Mitt Romney by more than 30 percentage points in 2012.

Clark and Addivinola declined to engage each other directly on most issues. Both stuck to broad themes and often avoided being pinned to specific policy positions.

Questioned twice by moderator Jim Braude about whether she would support a $15 minimum wage for striking fast-food workers, Clark declined to answer directly, saying, “the actual level doesn’t matter to me,” as long as the workers get a “decent wage.”

Pressed again on the issue outside the studio, she went further and backed the striking workers’ demands.

“I certainly support the fast-food workers in their quest for $15,” she said.

Addivinola, a businessman and lawyer from Boston, opposes efforts to raise both the state and federal minimum wages. He contended that higher wage floors will lead to more automation and make it difficult for restaurants to hire young people for entry-level jobs.

Turning to health care, Clark strongly defended the Affordable Care Act, calling it a historic opportunity to extend insurance to 40 million Americans.

Addivinola would vote to repeal the law, saying health care should be an issue for the states.

Both also showed stark policy differences on guns.

Clark said she supports expanded mandatory background checks for firearm purchases, to help prevent another school shooting. Addivinola said he would oppose such legislation and instead seek better services for the mentally ill.

Both candidates closed with appeals for support Tuesday.

Clark said she would go to Washington to “fight for families.”

“I’m not willing to stand aside and watch the extremist Republicans in the House attack women’s rights, when they’re not working on the issues important to middle-class families,” she said.

Addivinola promised to bring independent thinking to the US House.

“What people in the Fifth Congressional District are looking for is someone who is reasonable, has fiscal responsibility, and is going to advocate for the people who live here in Massachusetts,” he said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.

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