NEEDHAM (AP) -- The five candidates hoping to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John Kerry clashed in the first televised debates of the campaign Wednesday, as they sparred over the federal deficit, health care, Washington gridlock and other issues.
The Republicans -- former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, businessman Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Daniel Winslow -- were the first to engage in a 30-minute debate at the WCVB-TV studios, followed by Democratic U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch.
Asked about the federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama, Markey called his vote for the law the "proudest vote of his career" and criticized Lynch for voting against it.
"Steve, when that vote came up you were wrong when you were needed most," Markey told Lynch, saying the law would help provide health care for poor children, seniors and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
But Lynch said the final version of the bill was flawed for several reasons. He said it levied new taxes and gave too much power to insurance companies.
"It was like a hostage situation where we not only paid the ransom but we let the insurance companies keep the hostages," Lynch said, adding that if elected to the Senate he would not vote to repeal the law but "would vote to fix it."
Republicans oppose health law
In their debate, all three Republicans said they opposed the health care law and allow states to set their own health care policies. They said health care decisions are best left to the states like Massachusetts, which passed a sweeping health care overhaul in 2006.
On abortion, Lynch reiterated that he considered himself "pro-life" but did not support efforts to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, and said he fought for federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Lynch then tried to turn the tables on Markey, pointing out that early in Markey’s career he supported a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion.
"For 30 years, I have been a consistent supporter of a woman’s right to choose," responded Markey, who was first elected to the House in 1976 and shifted his position to abortion rights in the early 1980s.
The three Republicans split on abortion, with Sullivan and Gomez describing themselves as "pro-life" and Winslow describing himself as "pro-choice."
"There are two lives involved. There is the woman’s life and the unborn child’s life," Sullivan said, adding that the nation should try to streamline the adoption process.
Gomez cited his Catholic faith as the basis for his opposition to abortion, but he also called Roe v. Wade "settled law" and said he’s not going to Washington to change the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Would repeal DOMA
All three Republicans said they would support the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. The Democrats were not asked about gay marriage.
Lynch, who was first elected to the House in 2001, also criticized Markey for voting for the 2009 Dodd-Frank federal financial reform law, which he said bailed out the Wall Street banks but did nothing to help taxpayers.
But Markey said the bailout came at a time when the nation’s financial system was at risk of collapse and that a "financial calamity" would have occurred if the law had not passed.