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SCOT LEHIGH

Gabriel Gomez steps up his game

SPRINGFIELD

After a poor performance in the first debate, Republican Gabriel Gomez needed to up his game — and he did that last night. It was much more measured and interesting Republican who showed up at the Western Massachusetts debate.

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As for Democrat Ed Markey, he was what he always is. Not bad, not great. Not dull, but hardly inspiring.

He was, in other words, what he is: Steady Eddie, a man with an unflappable manner, a mastery of the issues, an impressive record, and the predictable set of liberal positions.

The view here is that, unlike the first debate, which I thought Markey won, there wasn’t a clear victor — or an obvious loser.

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That said, Gomez was so much improved that his campaign has to feel good about the way it went.

Gomez largely changed his tone from his first campaign, leaving most of his off-putting snarkiness behind. Yes, it was silly to try to blame the long-time Congressman for the national debt, and yes, his debate-opening outrage about Markey’s TV ads seemed more forced that genuine.

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But in general, Gomez did a good job portraying himself as a centrist with bipartisan inclinations. A $2 hike in the minimum wage? Sure. Support for equal pay for equal work? Yes — and with an expression of regret that something like that takes a law. The budget deficit? He’d go into with no preconditions and would be open to generating new revenues by closing loopholes.

Markey, in contrast, remained with his long-time nostrums of closing business breaks and loopholes and imposing more taxes on the wealthy, but excluding entitlements from any trims.

When Markey pushed hard on Gomez’s opposition to an assault weapons ban — a proposal that really isn’t in play nationally right now — Gomez countered by noting that he, as a former Navy SEAL, would be an effective advocate for near-universal background checks. (Meanwhile, he took pains to point out, that training would also help with no-bathroom-break filibusters.)

Although he didn’t match Markey on substance, Gomez did add a little policy heft by suggesting that one way to help the economy is to allow companies to bring foreign profits home at a reduced tax rate.

A second bad debate would have sealed Gomez’s fate. Last night he turned in the kind of performance that will create some buzz – and bring an interested audience to the final encounter next week in Boston.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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