Political Intelligence

Democrats Markey, Lynch tangle over Obamacare in first TV debate, following debate by GOP’s Winslow, Sullivan, Gomez

3/27/13: Needham, MA: Two separate debates were held at the studios of WCVB-TV for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the special election for the vacant U.S. Senator's seat from Massachusetts. Here democratic candidates Stephen Lynch (left) and Ed Markey (right) crossed paths and had a brief handshake as Lynch was leaving the studio after the debate and after the men had met with various reporters. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff) section: metro topic: 28debate
Lynch and Markey crossed paths and had a brief handshake after their debate.Credit: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

US Representatives Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch tangled over Lynch’s vote against President Obama’s health care law in a televised debate tonight between the two contenders for the Democratic nomination in the special election race for US Senate.

Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate, from the left, Norfolk state Rep. Daniel Winslow, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, and Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez, react as they listen to moderator R.D. Sahl, right, while preparing for a televised debate at the WCVB-TV studios in Needham, Mass., Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Three Republicans and two Democrats are vying for the seat left empty by Secretary of State and former Mass. Sen. John Kerry. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool)
Winslow, Sullivan, and Gomez in a lighter moment with moderator R.D. Sahl before the debate began. (Steve Senne/AP)AP

Lynch said he didn’t vote for the bill because “it was a very flawed bill and we missed a real opportunity to create real health care reform.”

Markey described his own vote for the Affordable Care Act as “the proudest vote of my career” and said, “Steve, when that vote came up, you were wrong.”

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Lynch responded, “What we did there was wrong,” describing what he said were several flaws in the law and calling it a giveaway to health insurance companies.

The half-hour debate between Markey and Lynch followed another half-hour debate that featured the Republican candidates, State Representative Daniel B. Winslow, former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and Gabriel E. Gomez, a private equity investor and former Navy SEAL.

Few sparks flew in the GOP debate. Gomez at one point, given a chance to direct a question at Winslow, used it instead to ask rhetorically whether Markey and Lynch would have voted for a budget recently passed by the Senate that sought to raise nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenue over the next 10 years.

“Do Congressman Markey and Congressman Lynch actually favor the budget that just came out of the Democratic Senate?” Gomez said.

Given his turn to speak, Winslow said, “Gabriel, I guarantee you that Steve Lynch and Ed Markey would have voted yes for a trillion-dollar tax increase. ... Any one of us is better than either one of them.”

One of the tenser moments in the debate came when Sullivan asked Gomez, a political newcomer, what experience he had in managing a budget and what amount of cuts he’d had to make.

Gomez responded that he’d been in the business of investing in companies small, medium, and large and had sat on the board of a large company, responsible for managing a budget of more than $3 billion.

He also cited his experience as a pilot and SEAL in the Navy, as well as his private sector experience, and said, “I’ve got leadership experience and I’ve been effective my whole life.”

Guided by moderator R.D. Sahl, the Republicans also addressed, among other things, their positions on gay marriage, abortion, how they would balance the federal budget, and the health care law. The issues Democrats discussed included abortion and whether it was time to let interest rates go back up.

Lynch, who said he saw a “pattern” of Markey “siding with the big guys against the little guys,” also challenged Markey on his vote for the Wall Street bailout bill of 2008, saying Markey had voted to help Wall Street and refused to “rescue” the American taxpayer.

Markey defended his vote, saying that if the bill hadn’t passed, the banking system would have collapsed. He said he voted “not to bail out the bankers but to ensure the system didn’t send us back to the Great Depression. ... Ordinary families had to be protected because if those banks went under, just like the 1930s, there would have been a financial calamity.”

Sahl wedged a single foreign policy question into the end of each debate, asking how the candidates believed the the United States should handle North Korea’s nuclear capability and Iran’s drive to get a nuclear weapon.

The US Senate seat opened up because of John Kerry’s departure to be secretary of state. The primaries for each party are on April 30. The general election is slated for June 25.

The debate offered most voters their first chance to get a look at the contenders in action.

A WBUR-FM poll conducted last week found that Markey was leading Lynch in the race for the Democratic nod, while Sullivan led his two opponents in the Republican race. In the traditionally blue Bay State, both Markey and Lynch were seen as likely to beat any of the Republicans. Offering some hope to those behind in the running, a large number of those polled said they were undecided or had never heard of the candidates.

Hosted by the Boston Media Consortium, the debate was broadcast and livestreamed on WCVB-TV.

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