By Bob Salsberg and Steve LeBlanc
---- — BOSTON (AP) — Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez clashed in their first debate in Massachusetts’ special U.S. Senate election last night, sparring on abortion, national security and gun issues.
One of the fiercest exchanges came at the very end of the hour-long match-up and focused on the issue of abortion.
Asked if he could support a law that would require women to wait 24 hours and review information about the development of a fetus before having an abortion, Gomez stated that while he is personally “pro-life” he isn’t interested in changing abortion law.
Gomez then suggested he could support the waiting period.
“I think asking somebody to wait 24 hours before they can actually go have an abortion is not asking a lot,” he said.
Markey described himself as “pro-choice.”
“I think the decision should be between the woman and her physician. That’s it. The woman makes the decision, not some law that’s imposed by politicians,” he said.
Gomez also said he could vote for a Supreme Court nominee who is opposed to abortion.
“If the judge comes in front of me and they follow the constitution and they’re ethical and they’re pro-choice and they’ve done a good job. I’ll vote for them. If they’re pro-life, I’ll vote for them,” he said. “There should be no litmus test.”
Markey said there should be a litmus test when it comes to abortion.
“I have a litmus test. I would not vote for a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade,” he said.
The two also has a sharp exchange over the investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya and Massachusetts native Glen Doherty, who was working as a private security contractor at the consulate.
Markey accused Republicans of turning the Benghazi hearings into a “Republican circus” to go after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to prevent her from getting the 2016 Democratic nomination for president.
But Gomez said it’s Markey and other Democrats who are more concerned about Clinton’s political future than getting to the truth.
“I can’t think of a more classic example of putting partisan politics above people,” said Gomez.
“You are the one politicizing this,” Markey shot back, saying Republicans were trying to use the attack for “short term political gain.”
Gomez also called for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists.
Markey stopped short of calling for Holder’s resignation, but said he agreed that the seizure of records from reporters was wrong.
Referencing the investigation into the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Markey said anyone who did anything wrong at the IRS should be “found and fired immediately.”
The two differed on U.S. policy in the ongoing conflict in Syria, with Gomez saying that the U.S. should — at a minimum — immediately impose a no-fly zone over the country and consider sending military aid to the “right rebel group.” After the debate, Gomez said he would try to convince U.S. allies to support a no-fly zone but would urge the U.S. to go forward even without a U.N. resolution.
But Markey urged caution in dealing with Syria and in carefully considering any type of military intervention.
“We learned this lesson in Afghanistan when we gave the weapons to one group and it came back to haunt us,” Markey said.
On the issue of guns, the two staked out sharply different ground during the debate sponsored by WBZ-TV and The Boston Globe.
Markey said one of his top jobs in Washington is opposing efforts by the National Rifle Association to stymie gun control measures. He criticized Gomez for opposing a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
Gomez defended his position and accused Markey of trying to scare voters. Gomez said he supported a recent, bipartisan proposal that came up in the Senate that would have mandated wider background checks for gun sales.
The two also split on President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.
Gomez said the law is hurting middle class families and small businesses, including the state’s medical device manufacturers.
Markey praised the 2010 law, which he has called one of the proudest votes of his career.
Gomez told reporters after the debate that his campaign is drawing enthusiasm not just from Republicans but many independents and Democrats as well.
“I think you would see that we have an amazing amount of momentum and surge going on right now,” said Gomez.
Markey and Gomez are also scheduled to debate in western Massachusetts on June 11 and again in Boston on June 18.
The election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the resignation of John Kerry is June 25.