Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez met for the last debate in the special election for the open Massachusetts Senate seat. Gomez turned in his best debate performance of the election cycle, while Markey sounded every bit as out-of-touch as his 1970s-vintage haircut would suggest.
Throughout the campaign, Gomez has emphasized Markey’s decades-long tenure in Congress, arguing that spending so much time in Washington has caused Markey to lose focus on what matters to Massachusetts voters. Markey seemed determine to confirm these accusations, stumbling on questions about taxes, partisanship, and even where he lives.
When asked by Gomez if he had ever voted against a tax increase, Markey answered, “My answer is quite simple, I have voted to reduce taxes on middle-class residents of our country and our state by one trillion dollars.” This answer was neither simple nor accurate, and its inaccuracy is so transparent that it insults the voters who Markey is trying to court. Markey has made tax increases one of the central issues of the campaign, running ads trumpeting his support of tax increases on wealthy Americans and criticizing Gomez for not doing the same, so regardless of how people feel about tax rates, everyone knows that Markey wants to raise them.
Markey criticized Gomez for having a 21% tax rate, but was reminded by debate moderator R.D. Sahl that he paid an effective tax rate of 19%. Whenever a candidate is being called out by the moderator for their doubletalk, they’re having a bad debate. Markey’s response was to blindly repeat, “I paid my fair share” and ignore follow up questions, which surely won no plaudits from viewers at home, who are inclined to trust the nonpartisan moderator over one of the candidates.
Markey’s worst moment of the night came when asked about his major weakness, being a partisan Democrat whose long tenure in Congress means he will be part of the problem in Washington D.C. Again, the moderator’s questions drove home a Gomez campaign theme, with Sahl asking him, “Are you not a tired old Democrat after 31 years in the House of Representatives?” Markey’s response was to attack Gomez for being a “tired old Republican,” a statement that’s obviously false to anyone watching at home and seeing that Gomez is decades younger than Markey.
Throughout the campaign, Markey has struggled to defend himself against charges that he basically lives in Maryland and hasn’t been in Massachusetts for years. To try and avoid the issue, Markey redacted his address when he released his tax returns. When asked what state was listed on his taxes, Markey claimed his Malden home was his primary residence despite a water bill that suggests he isn’t there more than one or two times a year.
For his part, Gomez showed Massachusetts voters that he will be the kind of Republican that even a blue state can like. He talked about supporting gun control, favoring affirmative action in limited circumstances, and promised to aggressively go after corporate tax loopholes. This puts him squarely in the mold of other socially liberal but fiscally frugal Republicans who have been elected statewide.
In the debate, Massachusetts voters saw the clearest contrast of the entire election, a young and energetic Gomez against a doddering Ed Markey who struggled to explain his record and residence. If the next week unfolds the way this debate did, Gomez could close the gap between him and Markey.