State House News Service Weekly Roundup: When You’ve Had a Bad Day

Gabriel Gomez and Rep. Edward Markey will face off in the U.S. Senate special election June 25.

It could have been a turning point in the race, the moment when the lights flicked on and the much-anticipated contest finally lived up to expectations for a U.S Senate race.

Would Congressman Edward Markey would finally slam the door on Gabriel Gomez and dash the GOP’s dream of Scott Brown redux? Could Gomez shine, narrow the polls and entice national Republican donors to start paying attention?

Instead, all anyone wanted to talk about Thursday morning was the thrilling Bruins double overtime victory in Game 3 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals. Tuukka Rask as a write-in?

At long last, Markey and Gomez shared the same debate stage. In fact, they were so close to each other in the WBZ studios they practically shared a podium. It was all Markey could do not graze Gomez as he repeatedly threw his hands up in disbelief. “Look it,” he would say over and over, refuting one charge after another lobbed his way.

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Neither Gomez nor Markey came across as a particularly skilled debater, but Gomez came prepared to try to knock Markey off his game and get under the veteran Congressman’s skin. It didn’t really work.

The two spent an hour trading familiar campaign barbs. Gomez highlighted Markey’s resume as someone who has served in a deeply unpopular Congress since the days of Gerald Ford, reprising one-liners when he called him a “poster boy” for term limits and debuting new themes when he accused Markey of “putting party and politics before the people.”

For Markey, he wanted voters to come away thinking of the new-to-politics Republican as a cookie-cutter candidate with the same “stale” Republican ideas that Massachusetts voters have repeatedly rejected. Those positions included Gomez’s opposition to an assault weapons ban, support for cutting back on Social Security benefits and a willingness to support a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The openings that Gomez did give Markey, the Malden Democrat largely let slide.

Two new polls from New England College and UMass Amherst, both conducted before the debate, showed Markey leading Gomez comfortably by 12 and 11 points, respectively. In the plus column for Gomez, the Republican was leading Markey by 17 points among independent voters in the UMass Amherst survey. 

Voters, however, trusted Markey over Gomez 47-32 to handle the economy, and Gomez’s supposed strength on national security with his background as a Navy SEAL did not resonate. Voters gave the edge to Markey on national security 41-33.

Next week’s visit by President Barack Obama to stump for Markey in Boston should be interesting for several reasons. Not only does Markey oppose the president’s position to reform Social Security, but he also gave a thumb’s up to White House foil Rep. Darrell Issa, urging the California Republican to make full use of his subpoena power to learn the lessons from the Benghazi consulate attack and the IRS’s targeting of the Tea Party.

While Gomez and Markey have circled June 25 on their calendars, others are more keenly eyeing June 26. Because if Markey prevails, that’s when the race for his seat in Congress will begin in earnest, even if it’s already begun to some degree under the Golden Dome.

Sen. Katherine Clark and Sen. Karen Spilka are both preparing to run for Markey’s seat in Congress and basked in the attention at hearings this week on Beacon Hill where Spilka pushed her canine “lemon law” to regulate dog breeders, and Clark tackled the issue of access to abortion with a bill that seeks to ease parental consent laws for minors.

“As a prior hobby breeder myself, for chocolate labs . . . it’s really important to me as well to have a bill that’s workable, good for puppies, good for people who buy the puppies,” Spilka said at a hearing Tuesday.

Defending abortion access might stir the liberal base, but it’s tough to compete with a bill titled “An Act to Protect Puppies and Kittens.”

Gubernatorial drinking habits may be nothing new. Bill Weld was a self-described fan of the “amber colored liquid,” while Gov. Deval Patrick has always been more an oenophile, keeping a stash of wine and glasses in his desk cabinet.

But nobody was expecting Patrick to dish on getting tanked alone when he showed up for a discussion on “leadership and generational responsibility” at the Cambridge tech firm HubSpot. The governor dropped his guard a bit as he discussed the day-long manhunt for second marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Among the gems from Patrick: President Obama woke him up from a nap in his office to inquire about the search, and he was relieved that Tsarnaev had been found so that he didn’t have to listen to “bitching and moaning” about his stay-at-home order.

Patrick also said he arrived at Sweet P Farm in the Berkshire around supper time on Saturday, took a swim, and proceeded to get drunk on chardonnay by himself at a nearby restaurant while reading his iPad over a dinner of duck confit, soup and salad.

When he wasn’t talking candidly about how he likes to unwind, Patrick busied himself tagging bald eagle chicks and entrusting the state to the capable hands of Secretary of State William Galvin as he went to Chicago to celebrate a street named in his honor.

Meanwhile, the House acted unanimously to approve a $ 1.4 billion, five-year borrowing plan for public and affordable housing, and House and Senate negotiators began poring over the details of the state’s fiscal 2014 budget due in three weeks.

Some House Republicans and Democrats pleaded with budget conferees not to wait for Senate President Therese Murray’s welfare reform bill to act, which the Plymouth Democrat said won’t be ready until late June.

Rep. Shauna O’Connell (R-Taunton) may have to wait until then to find a more receptive audience for her reform ideas than her colleagues on the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

O’Connell grew up in public housing and has been a vocal advocate for eliminating fraud and waste to make sure tax dollars are spent on families who truly need the benefit. However, she was put on the hot-seat at a hearing this week and grilled about the cost of her reform ideas and the burden they would place on an already stretched agency.

Nothing a few glasses of chardonnay can’t fix.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Round One of the Markey-Gomez tilt goes to Patrice Bergeron and the Boston Bruins.

South End Patch