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JOAN VENNOCHI

Debate a tough test for Gomez

Gabriel Gomez, left, and Edward Markey faced off in their first debate in the US Senate race.

Yoon S. Byun/Associated Press

Gabriel Gomez, left, and Edward Markey faced off in their first debate in the US Senate race.

Navy Seal candidates must swim 500 yards in under 12½ minutes, do 42 pushups in two minutes, and endure water submersion with arms and legs tied.

It’s a brutal test. But in Massachusetts, it may be an even more brutal test to show up for a debate with political inexperience and Mitch McConnell and the national Republican agenda wrapped around your neck — and Gabriel Gomez couldn’t pass it.

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The former Navy SEAL and novice Republican candidate for US Senate had his best moments in the second half of his debate with Democrat Ed Markey, when the topic was foreign policy and the three separate Obama administration controversies involving the IRS, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Benghazi consulate attack.

Calling it “a chilling thing,” Gomez said he believes Holder should resign for his role in seizing journalists’ records. He said the attack in Benghazi was “like attacking our homeland” and “we still don’t know what happened.”

Markey lost his cool a little during the Benghazi exchange, repeatedly accusing Gomez of being part of the Republican effort to discredit Hillary Clinton before the 2016 presidential contest. But Gomez pushed Markey’s buttons enough to get him to describe Benghazi as an “inexcusable mess.”

Gomez repeatedly alluded to Markey’s long tenure in Congress, rounding up the veteran lawmaker’s 37 years in Washington to 40. His best line of attack was to tag Markey for putting partisan politics “ahead of the people.” He said Markey voted with his party 99 percent of the time, and when he didn’t it was because “you were left of the party.”

But Gomez couldn’t make up for his own shaky start and was no match for Markey’s comfort with the issues — just one benefit of the longevity Gomez scorns.

With that comfort comes the ability to draw the sharp ideological lines that make it very difficult for any Republican to win in liberal Massachusetts. Gomez is on the wrong side of several critical issues, and Markey made sure to highlight them.

Gomez opposes an assault weapon ban in a state that has one. He opposes Obama-care in a state that created the template for it. And, in the final minutes of the debate, Gomez said he supported a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion, and could vote to confirm a pro-life Supreme Court justice.

Navy SEALs get out of tough positions. But in Massachusetts, that’s a tough position to survive.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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