(CNN) – The final debate showdown Tuesday between Massachusetts rivals Gabriel Gomez and Rep. Ed Markey was peppered with stinging attacks from the candidates, whose race for U.S. Senate culminates in one week.
The wide-ranging forum veered from each candidate’s record on job creation to which Senate hopeful is more entrenched in his party’s establishment. It also touched on last week’s White House decision to further intervene in Syria’s civil war, as well as recent disclosures about government surveillance programs.
The most tense moment came as Gomez challenged Markey on term limits - a policy that would have prevented the 20-term Democrat from remaining in Washington. Markey countered by asking his Republican rival whether he’d posed the same question to longtime GOP senators like Mitch McConnell and John McCain.
Gomez said he had. Markey, without explicitly accusing Gomez of lying, expressed deep skepticism.
“This just becomes a question of whether you really understand what’s going on,” Markey said. “We’re both running for the Senate for the first time.”
McCain later weighted in on Twitter:
Gomez’s term-limits question got to the heart of his central takedown of Markey - that the longtime Democratic congressman’s roots in Washington disqualify him as a voice for Bay State voters.
“Who are the people going to trust to put people in front of party and politics?” Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, said at the start of the debate, establishing early his main critique of Markey.
The Democrat seemed to bristle at the suggestion he’s been outside of Massachusetts too long, even going as far as reciting his home address in Malden where he said he’s lived for more than six decades.
“The question isn’t where you’re coming from, it’s where you’re going,” Markey said. “Mr. Gomez, he’s backing these tired old Republican ideas…That’s a reflection of who he’s going to be with down in the United States Senate.”
With a week to go before ballots are cast, polls show Gomez needs to close a roughly 10-point gap with Markey if he hopes to become the next U.S. senator from Massachusetts. The most recent survey, conducted June 11-14, showed Markey at 54% among likely voters, compared to 43% who said they supported Gomez.
Polls earlier in the race showed a larger margin between the two candidates - a survey in May had Markey up 17 points. And while the Democrat hasn’t dipped below a seven-point advantage over his rival, Democrats aren’t taking any chances on giving up a seat that’s been held by their party for decades.
Big names have flocked to the Bay State to campaign for Markey, including President Barack Obama and the first lady. Vice President Joe Biden will head to Massachusetts Saturday to stump for the lawmaker first elected to the House in 1976. And two national Democratic groups - the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the independent Senate Majority PAC - both went up with television commercials this month in support of Markey.
It’s all a sign Democrats don’t want a repeat of 2010’s special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, which saw Republican Scott Brown pull an upset win over Democrat Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general. Brown (who lost his re-election bid last year) was the first Republican to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate since 1979.
The race comes as Washington is enveloped in a series of political controversies, including recently revealed surveillance programs that monitor Americans’ phone records.
On Tuesday, Gomez wondered why Markey wasn’t more vocal in his opposition to government snooping, saying if a Republican were in the White House, his opponent would be “jumping up and down calling for investigations.”
Markey, meanwhile, honed in on Gomez’s record running a private equity firm, claiming the Republican wasn’t being transparent enough in naming who his investors were.
“My vote record is completely transparent,” Markey said. “But with Mr. Gomez, we still don’t know who his clients were or who he worked for.”