CAMPAIGN 2013:

Markey, Gomez debate Keystone and green energy amid jibes

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez continued to sling barbs at each other last night in their second debate -- offering contrasting takes on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and other issues -- ahead of the June 25 Massachusetts Senate special election.

During an hourlong debate at the Springfield, Mass., studios of PBS affiliate WGBY-TV, the duo echoed regular criticisms of each other: Markey characterized Gomez as a potential rubber stamp for Republican leadership, while Gomez criticized Markey as a Washington insider, taking aim at his nearly 40-year congressional career.

"There are big differences between Mr. Gomez and myself, and I think it's important to get them out," Markey said in his opening remarks, before slamming Gomez for his stances on gun control and tax reform.

Gomez later dismissed Markey's efforts to tie him to a potential GOP majority in the Senate, stating: "If he wants to run against Mitch McConnell or Newt Gingrich or Gerald Ford -- he was president when you first got down there, sir -- you should have ran against them."

The Republican candidate, a former Navy SEAL and private equity investor, has sought to sway voters in the heavily Democratic Bay State by arguing that he would work to influence GOP leaders on issues including gay marriage and climate change science.

But in response to a question about whether each candidate supports the construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Gomez also trotted out a common GOP attack from the 2012 cycle, criticizing the bankrupt California solar firm Solyndra, which received $535 million in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.

"I'm a green Republican. I believe in climate change, and I believe that humans have had something to do with climate change. Now, there are people in my party who deny science ... I believe that we need to have more wind, more solar, more hydro, more renewable-type energy, more green-type energy," Gomez said. "But I also come from the private sector knowing that not every single green project is a good project. And that's one of the differences between me and Congressman Markey. He thinks that every green project is a good project. He thinks that Solyndra was a good project."

Gomez went on to voice his support for the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would carry crude from Canada's oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"There are projects that are worth investing in, and there are projects that are not worth investing in. Keystone is a project we should be investing in: It creates jobs. It lowers our energy costs. It makes us less energy dependent around the world ... and it is environmentally friendly," Gomez said, citing a State Department environmental impact statement released earlier this year.

Gomez also referred to the involvement of billionaire California climate activist Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Committee has supported Markey's bid, but referred to him only as "an outside attack guy" who opposes the pipeline, and not by name.

In his response, Markey first accused Republicans of calling for tax breaks for the wealthy while supporting cuts to Social Security. "The Republican formula is always the same," Markey said, before outlining his opposition to the pipeline project.

"The Canadians are mining the dirtiest oil in the world. They want to build a pipeline across the United States, where we would run the environmental risk ... and then they want to export the oil out of the United States," Markey said, and went on to call for the United States to be a leader in renewable energy production.

Earlier in the debate, Markey also reiterated his desire to end tax benefits to the oil and gas industry, arguing that such benefits are "like subsidizing a fish to swim or a bird to fly; you just don't have to do it."

One of the more colorful exchanges during the debate came in response to a moderator's inquiry about whether the candidates would support changes to the Senate's filibuster rules.

Both Markey and Gomez praised Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) for his nearly 13-hour filibuster in March, during which he held up Senate business to object to the use of drone strikes against U.S. citizens.

"The filibuster, if used properly, like Rand Paul did, has a major force that's good," Gomez said, but then when on to add: "I will also say that I could have gone longer than Rand Paul -- I think he went 12 hours, and I've gone lots longer than that ... without having to go to the bathroom, sir, during my time in the SEAL teams."

Markey maintains advantage in race

According to two surveys released this week, Markey continues to carry a single-digit lead in the contest, although analysts offered starkly different views on what that means for the Democratic lawmaker's chances in the election.

A WBUR-MassINC Polling Group survey of 500 likely voters conducted June 6 to 9 gave Markey a 7-point lead, 46 percent to 39 percent, with 11 percent undecided. The survey had a 4.4-point margin of error.

"With the election two weeks away and the margin largely unchanged from an early May WBUR poll, Gomez is running out of time to make up ground on the veteran Democrat," reads a statement accompanying the poll results on MassINC's website.

A Suffolk University survey released Monday likewise showed Markey with a 7-point lead over Gomez, though that poll marks a decrease from Markey's 8-point lead in an earlier survey.

"Ed Markey continues to lead but the margin has dwindled," Suffolk University Political Research Center Director David Paleologos said in a statement. The survey of 500 likely voters, conducted June 6 to 9, had a 4.4-point margin of error.

"Markey's core ballot test number has fallen below 50 percent and recent Obama administration scandals, especially the Associated Press phone records scrutiny, have touched a nerve with likely voters who are holding back or no longer supporting Markey and President Obama with the same intensity," Paleologos added.

But Tufts University political science professor Jeff Berry noted that while the margin in most polling has remained in the single digits, that doesn't portend certain doom for Markey, who had been widely expected to cruise to victory in the Bay State.

"Markey is performing well, if not spectacularly," Berry said. "He's led in every poll since the primaries. ... It's actually very difficult to poll on this race, because turnout is going to be low, and determining turnout is a tricky methodical issue for pollsters."

Berry went on to note that the Senate race has lacked some of the drama of the 2010 special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), when Republican Scott Brown won an underdog victory.

"This has been a pretty quiet affair," Berry said. "Gomez does not seem to have taken on the David, as in David-and-Goliath qualities. He's performed in a manner that accentuates his inexperience."

He added: "The major problem for Gomez has nothing to do with his campaign; it's that he's a Republican in an overwhelmingly blue state. ... In comparison to Markey, who has 36 percent of registered voters in his camp, Gomez starts at an enormous disadvantage."

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