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Candidates clash in first Senate special election debate

In the first debate to feature candidates from both parties, the three Republican and two Democratic candidates seeking Secretary of State John Kerry’s former senate seat sparred over social issues, foreign policy and the economy Wednesday night.

“This [was] the first chance for many Massachusetts voters to meet and hear from the candidates. I look forward to learning more about where they stand on major issues and what they’d do in the U.S. Senate,” R. D. Sahl, the debate moderator and journalism lecturer at Boston University, said in an email.

Republican candidates Gabriel Gomez and Michael Sullivan said in a live-stream video from WCVB they agreed with their party’s pro-life stance, but Dan Winslow separated himself, saying he supported a woman’s right to choose.

“I’m pro-choice, … but for me it’s a very personal decision, and for that reason consistent with my view of a limited role of government,” Winslow said. “The decision to have that procedure is a question for a person’s conscience, her faith and her family, and those are three areas into which the government has no business being.”

Democratic candidates Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey went head-to-head on the  topic of the Affordable Care Act. Lynch said he voted against the act because it raised taxes and lowered standards of healthcare.

“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 he would vote to fix the law. “Now we are in a tough spot.”

Samantha Hooper, press secretary for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said she looks forward to the rest of the debates because party members are confident about their two candidates.

“In terms of job creation and in terms of the environment, our two Democratic candidates have better ideas to move our state forward,” Hooper said.

Tim Buckley, communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, said Lynch and Markey spent years in the House of Representatives without making any big changes.

“Ed Markey and Steve Lynch are mediocre congressman who have been in Washington for 50 years, combined with little to show for it except dysfunction, gridlock and partisan bickering,” Buckley said, “while Republicans will speak on clear terms about why their plans to create jobs and grow the economy are right for Massachusetts.”

Scott Palmer, emeritus professor of international relations and political science at BU, said the election will be less about Democrats versus Republicans, and more about Lynch versus Markey.

“At this point, it doesn’t look like there will be many fireworks coming out of the Republican camp, mainly because Scott Brown chose not to run,” Palmer said. “But it looks like Markey’s odds are the favorite to win in this election.”

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