BOSTON (AP)- The candidates running in the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts traded barbs Monday over homeland security in an exchange that pointed to an increasingly sharp tone between the two.
Republican Gabriel Gomez said it was unconscionable that his opponent, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, voted twice against resolutions to honor the victims of 9/11, but Markey countered that Gomez was distorting his record.
Markey, a Democrat, said he voted against the resolutions because they were a Republican fraud perpetrated to link the Sept. 11 attacks to the war in Iraq.
The deadly April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon have brought homeland security to the forefront of the campaign for the June 25 election to fill the seat formerly held by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Gomez was joined by U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a fellow Republican and Navy veteran, for a rally at a VFW post in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood.
Gomez, a Cohasset businessman and political newcomer, said he found Markey's votes against the resolutions in 2004 and 2006 puzzling.
"One thing I can't understand is how he voted more than once against a very simple congressional resolution to honor the victims of 9/11," Gomez said. "To me it's just unconscionable to have voted against something like that."
Markey said that he had voted for eight resolutions honoring the 9/11 victims, but voted against two others because they had attempted to link the memory of those killed in the attacks with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the broader war on terrorism, including the war in Iraq.
"I did not vote for the resolutions where the Republicans then stuffed into those resolutions actual statements saying that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11," Markey told reporters Monday. "I can't say that to the people of Boston."
The Democrat said the resolutions he voted against - both of which passed the House by wide margins - were an attempt by the GOP, including then-Vice President Dick Cheney, to justify the Iraq war.
Gomez also took Markey to task for voting against creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the attacks, and for voting against reauthorizing the Patriot Act in 2011 after having supported it 10 years earlier.
Markey said he supported the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, but voted against the final bill creating the agency, because it did not include collective bargaining rights for employees. He said he supported the Patriot Act but wanted to ensure it regularly comes up for reauthorization. He spoke after touring new development projects in the Longwood medical area with union officials.
Gomez called Markey's explanations slick and lawyerly.
"I don't question Congressman Markey's patriotism one bit," the Republican told reporters following the rally with McCain. "I do question his judgment significantly on issues of national security."
McCain told the rally that Gomez would be a bipartisan voice in the Senate, citing his support for wider background checks for gun owners and immigration reform among other issues.
"I believe in this young man," McCain said. "I believe he is the next generation of leadership in this country."
Gomez has called for a two-term limit for U.S. senators and has repeatedly said that Markey, who was first elected to the House in 1976, has been in Congress way too long.
Asked why the same should not apply to McCain - who was elected the House in 1982 and the Senate in 1986 - Gomez said the difference was that McCain had been effective during his long tenure while Markey, in Gomez's view, had not.
Markey said it was ironic that Gomez, given his support for term limits, would choose to appear with McCain, whom Markey called "the Republican poster boy for term limits."
McCain said he would "let the people of Massachusetts make the judgment as to whether (Markey) has been there too long."
The Arizona Republican also attended a fundraising luncheon in Boston for Gomez, who began the special election campaign at a major cash disadvantage to Markey.
According to Federal Election Commission postings, Markey had raised nearly $4.8 million in individual contributions through the last campaign finance reporting period, compared to the $582,000 in individual contributions Gomez had reported.
Also Monday, campaign officials for Gomez and Markey confirmed they had agreed to their first debate, to be held June 5 and sponsored by WBZ-TV and The Boston Globe.
Both candidates say they are interested in additional debates
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