Update 8:49 p.m. ET, Tuesday, 6/11 - Updated to reflect Tuesday night's debate
Springfield, Massachusetts (CNN) – Democratic Rep. Ed Markey and Republican newcomer Gabriel Gomez squared off in their second of three debates Tuesday night, two weeks before the special election and just as recent polls indicate the contest is tightening up.
In a sometimes fiery exchange that veered from the issue of digital privacy to the contested Keystone pipeline, both candidates often reverted back to negative attacks.
Gomez repeatedly tried to tie Markey and the lawmaker's nearly four decades in the House of Representatives to an unpopular Congress.
"You are Washington, D.C., and you own the national debt, sir," Gomez said.
Markey suggested his opponent would serve as yet another vote for a GOP that's only growing more conservative.
"I've had a job. My job has been fighting the tea party Republicans," Markey said during the debate.
The ultimate winner will fill the seat vacated earlier this year by John Kerry, who went on to become secretary of state. An interim senator, appointed by the governor, currently holds the seat.
Democrats are in nearly the same position they found themselves three years ago when the state's attorney general, Martha Coakley, was favored to defeat another fresh face, Scott Brown, to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Coakley went on lose but only after a last ditch attempt by Democrats to hold on to the seat.
Just days before that election, President Barack Obama held a rally in Boston where he praised the then-attorney general as someone who has "fought for the people of Massachusetts every single day."
The president can only hope for a different outcome when he headlines a campaign event for Markey on Wednesday.
In an interview with CNN, Markey rejected the notion Obama's trip is a sign his Senate bid is in trouble.
"Just the opposite. My opponent he had John McCain in. He had Rudy Giuliani in. That's who he's identifying himself with. And I have Barack Obama coming in," Markey told CNN. "And I think it's going to clarify for the voters of this state whose side each one of the candidates is on."
Gomez, a private equity investor and former Navy SEAL, is clearly enjoying the attention he is receiving from the White House. But mindful of the president's popularity in Massachusetts, the GOP candidate was careful not to gloat.
"I guess I'm the reason he's coming up here. He's trying to prop up Congressman Markey," Gomez said in an interview with CNN.
In contrast to Brown, who was a state senator in his race against Coakley, Gomez is a political novice who has never run for statewide or national office. His relative inexperience has, at times, hampered his campaign.
The Republican made some in his own party wince last month when he referred to Markey as "pond scum" in response to a recent attack web video from his Democratic opponent.
The video slammed Gomez for his links to a group that accused Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Asked Tuesday if he stood by his "pond scum" moment, Gomez indicated he regretted the remark.
"You know for somebody to put anybody's vision or anybody's picture next to Osama bin Laden, let alone a service member, let alone a former SEAL, I think is pretty much below the low. You know it was a human moment. Was I thinking it? Yeah. Should I have said it? Probably not," Gomez told CNN.
For his part, Markey said he has no regrets about the video.
"He was a spokesman for a group that called Barack Obama out for in his opinion politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden, and all of the video which that group ran was completely and totally uncalled for," Markey told CNN.
Two polls released this week by Suffolk University and WBUR/MassINC show Markey ahead by seven percentage points in a state that should be a Democratic bet. Previous polls had the Democrat ahead of Gomez by double digits.
The two contenders have butted heads over bigger issues than political campaign tactics. Major topics up for debate have ranged from gun control to health care reform to Markey's three decades in Congress.
Gomez has attempted to appeal as a new kind of Republican to Massachusetts voters. If elected, Gomez hopes to join the bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform and make it a "gang of nine."
Still, "in a perfect world," Gomez says he would repeal Obamacare.
Such remarks, Markey says, make Gomez a defender of the "same old, stale Republican ideas."
In an interview with CNN, Markey said the case of National Security Agency leaker, Edward Snowden, should serve as a catalyst for a new conversation on the privacy rights of Americans in an increasingly digital age.
"I've been the leader in many ways on this issue in trying to ferret out what's going on, what are the standards by which government collects information," Markey said.
Another critic of government surveillance, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon issued a fundraising appeal on Markey's behalf Tuesday night, referring to the congressman as a defender of "digital privacy."
But the two candidates found one thing they could agree on: the New England Patriots.
Clearly learning from Coakley's mistake in 2010 when she alienated Boston sports fans with a gaffe about the Boston Red Sox, both Markey and Gomez were well aware of controversial quarterback Tim Tebow's reported move to the Patriots.
"Any player that Bill Belichick signs is a good idea. In Belichick, we trust," Markey said.
"I'm happy that we got Tim Tebow," Gomez said.