BOSTON (AP)- The two Democratic candidates in the state's special U.S. Senate election sparred on drone strikes, student debt, health care and campaign spending during a debate Monday at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch both decried soaring student debt and campaign spending by outside groups, and said the country should be more cautious with it use of drone strikes.
An Associated Press review found campaign spending by outside groups has topped $1.25 million in the race, most to support Markey.
Lynch was particularly critical of California billionaire Thomas Steyer, who has called on Lynch to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would run from western Canada to Texas. Steyer has targeted Lynch with a campaign that includes airplanes trailing banners over Boston.
Lynch said just because Steyer is a billionaire, it doesn't mean he gets to "push people around."
"I've faced bullies my whole life and I won't put up for that," Lynch said.
Markey has also called on Steyer and other groups to stay out of the race, saying it shows the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which paved the way for a flood of campaign cash from corporations and unions.
Markey and Lynch have signed a "people's pledge" designed to discourage radio, television and Internet ads and political mailings by outside groups.
Markey said the oil pipeline isn't in the country's best interests, while Lynch says he's waiting for an environmental report before making a final decision.
The two also discussed student debt and drone strikes.
Lynch said he finished school with $80,000 in student loans and fell behind at one point. He said he's co-sponsored a bill that provides for lower interest rates on student loans.
Markey said he also relied on student loans and agrees the country needs to reduce interest rates.
Markey praised the recent filibuster by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul to press the Obama administration for more details on their drone policy. Markey said citizens should know more about the decision-making process.
"Would the use of the drones create so much collateral damage that the law of unintended consequences is invoked?" Markey said, suggesting the strikes could fuel animosity toward the U.S.
Lynch also warned against what he called the "incautious use of drones" while acknowledging there may be times when it is the only option.
Lynch again defended his decision to vote against the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, saying it unfairly benefits insurance companies. Markey said his vote for the bill was the proudest of his career.
The debate at UMass-Lowell was sponsored by its Center for Public Opinion and the Boston Herald.
The three Republican candidates were also on the campaign trail Monday.
GOP Senate hopeful Michael Sullivan condemned statements made by the head of a Tea Party-aligned group that is supporting his campaign.
The Conservative Campaign Committee said it's planning to launch radio and television ads aimed at helping Sullivan defeat fellow Republicans Gabriel Gomez and Daniel Winslow.
In one Internet posting, the group's leader Lloyd Marcus criticized gay activists as "outrageously aggressive" and "relentless, viscous and hell bent on forcing all of us, particularly Christians, to say their behavior is normal."
In a debate on WRKO-AM, Sullivan said "there's no place in our society for those statements," when pressed by Gomez, a businessman from Cohasset.
Sullivan, a former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, again said that he wasn't familiar with the group. A spokesman for the group has said its support of Sullivan has "nothing to do with gay marriage, abortion or any other social issue."
Also Monday, Winslow proposed a national lottery to help ease the financial burden facing college students.
Winslow said he'd like to increase the amount spent on federal college grants, which he said would reduce reliance on federal student loans.
The Norfolk state representative said he'd pay for the changes with a federal lottery which would include a provision to protect existing state lotteries.
Winslow said his plan would also limit the annual growth of tuition for colleges that accept federal funding by tying tuition growth to increases in the consumer price index.
"We need to reduce student debt and make college and higher education more affordable," Winslow told reporters.
The primaries are April 30. The special election is June 25.
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