This will probably be remembered as the John McCain debate: the one where Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez had an extended argument, like two fourth-graders on the playground, over whether Gomez had told McCain that he’s been in the Senate too long. I believe the words “Yes, I did” and “No, you did not” were actually uttered.
But the exchange underscored a larger truth about this race: Gomez’s relentlessly repeated line about Markey’s “37 years in Washington” and those TV ads with “37” in giant boldface type have beaten Markey down, preventing him from making his best case for himself.
Granted, Markey was as animated last night as he’s been in a televised debate. But Gomez was even more so. And the short-answer format allowed him to bypass his weakness — scant knowledge, or conviction, on many issues — and play to his strengths, his fresh face, and his neophyte status. He’s a Republican who can declare his liberal-ish support for a variety of issues, but who has never been under pressure to vote on actual bills.
Markey, in response, tried to downplay his Washingtonness: “We’re both running for the Senate for the first time.” At some point, instead, he might have gotten to the substance of why experience is good. He might have named lawmakers — Ted Kennedy, for instance — who did important work over decades in the Senate. He might have explained what he’s learned about the art of Washington deal-making, how those skills could benefit his home state. He might have talked about why McCain’s long service has been good for the country.
Instead, he kept reverting to a slogan that doesn’t really fit this race: that Gomez represents the “oldest, stalest Republican ideas.” If anything, Gomez’s ideas are so “fresh” and “new” that most of them haven’t been formed yet. But without a good rebuttal, his naivete almost becomes its own argument. When Gomez says, “Give me 17 months” — and promises to fix all of Washington in that time — a part of you wants to dare him to try.Joanna Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaWeiss.