A week after deadly bombings in Boston, the two Massachusetts Democrats vying for an open U.S. Senate clashed on homeland security issues during a televised debate.
U.S. Representative Stephen F. Lynch, lagging in campaign cash and public polls, criticized House colleague Ed Markey for a 2002 vote in Congress against creating a joint task force allowing collaboration among law enforcement agencies -- an element Lynch argued was central to authorities’ apprehension of the surviving suspect in last week’s Boston attacks.
“If all those federal, state and local agencies could not work together, we would not have had the effective response we had,” said Lynch, 58, of South Boston. “I don’t know how you’re going to spin this; I voted yes, you voted no.”
Markey, 66, of Malden, defended his homeland security record, saying he was the architect of legislation enacted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. that beefed up security on cargo as well as nuclear power and chemical plants.
“I was successful in putting those laws on the books that protect us today,” Markey said. He added that he supports the existence of the Joint Interagency Homeland Security Task Force. “If I did vote no, the reason I voted no is that they were excluding a provision that would have made the bill even stronger.”
It was the sharpest exchange in the hour-long debate last night co-sponsored by WBZ, Boston’s CBS TV affiliate, and the Boston Globe. Other issues touched upon included health care, abortion rights and the two candidates’ disparate approaches to politics.
Lynch, a former ironworker from a working-class area of Boston first elected to his seat in 2001, portrayed himself as an independent voice for ordinary people, unconcerned about appealing to the Democratic political establishment.
“Ed has been on the side of big business,” Lynch said, citing Markey’s backing of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a 1994 trade deal with Canada and Mexico -- and the 2008 financial bailout that prevented some major bank failures.
“Ed is a policy guy; I’m a people guy,” Lynch said.
Markey said he was “proud” to have his name on important laws including the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which aimed to open up markets through lessening regulations, and to have stood with other Democratic leaders in supporting the financial rescue package to ensure “that our entire economy did not collapse.”
Those he sided with, Markey said, included President Barack Obama, former Senator John Kerry, whose seat they are seeking, and former Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who didn’t run for re-election last year after 16 House terms.
In a moment of frustration at Lynch’s offensive posture throughout the debate, Markey said of his rival: “Steve is putting so many red herrings out here, we’re going to have to put an aquarium right here in the middle of the studio.”
The tenor was a departure from an otherwise low-key campaign and came after Markey and Lynch both suspended their campaigns following the explosion April 15 of a pair of bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line. The blasts killed three and injured more than 200, effectively freezing the Senate race for the nomination to succeed Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee who resigned Jan. 29 to become U.S. Secretary of State.
Markey and Lynch used the debate to speak to their core constituencies as the April 30 primary approaches.
“Markey needs to turn out liberal Democratic activists, and Lynch is hoping that he gets conservative Democrats, independents, and maybe even some Republicans who say, ‘None of my guys has a chance,’” as well as labor union members, said Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, who isn’t affiliated with either campaign.
The two are to meet again tonight for a debate in Springfield, originally scheduled for April 17 and postponed because of the bombings.
Lynch is pushing for an upset of Markey, a better-financed and better-known opponent who has led in public opinion polls and received high-profile endorsements, including from the Globe.
Markey held a 10-percentage point advantage over Lynch among prospective voters in the Democratic primary, 44 percent to 34 percent, in a Western New England University poll conducted April 11-18 with MassLive.com, the Springfield Republican newspaper and CBS TV affiliate WSHM. The survey’s margin of error was plus-or-minus six points.
Markey had $4.6 million in cash on hand after spending $3.2 million on his campaign in the first four months of the year. Lynch had about $514,000 left after spending $1.8 million, according to filings submitted yesterday to the Federal Election Commission.
The campaign is the third for a Massachusetts Senate seat since the 2009 death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat who had held his seat since 1862. A 2010 special election was won by Republican Scott Brown. He then lost a bid for a full term to Democrat Elizabeth Warren last November.
Republicans seeking Kerry’s seat include former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Michael Sullivan, 58, state Representative Dan Winslow, 54, and Gabriel Gomez, 47, a former Navy SEAL and private-equity investor who ran in last week’s marathon.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1 in Massachusetts, while more than half of those on the voting rolls -- 52 percent -- are unaffiliated and can cast ballots in either party’s primary.
The importance of who turns out was underscored in the Western New England University poll. While Markey led by 20 points among registered Democrats, Lynch ran ahead among unaffiliated voters by 6 points.