The Republican Senate Candidates Have a Rather Uncontentious Debate

Or was it a press conference?

There were several good recaps of the debate between the three Republican Senate candidates, whcih took place in Easton last night, but the main takeaway seems to be that this was less a debate and more a joint press conference intended to introduce all three to a general electorate. As Katharine Seelye of the New York Times sums up, “the candidates mainly sought to introduce themselves and establish their identities rather than joust with one another. Rarely did they disagree.” 

This being a Massachusetts election, Dan Winslow, Michael Sullivan, and Gabriel Gomez seemed inclined to express moderation on most issues. None of them supported an assault weapons ban, but Gomez suggested stricter background checks, and Sullivan criticized lax regulation surrounding mentally ill people. All three suggested some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. The Boston Phoenix’s Chris Faraone seemed shocked at this, writing, “While the show was certainly a disappointment for anyone who hoped to catch a race to the bitter bottom, the debate was a stark reminder of why the Commonwealth occasionally backs the red team – because some of the time, they’re not all that crazy.” (This doesn’t seem that shocking, but whatever.)

As for the candidates, each of them seems to have emphasized the through-lines by which they’ve already tried to define their candidacies. Sullivan, most of the reviews say, portrayed himself as the collected, experienced statesman. Winslow similarly emphasized his experience in all three branches of government while still casting himself as a political outsider. And Gomez struck people as green as he worked his personal story in as often as possible. “Gomez subtly reinforced the notion of himself as an amateur in politics by deftly appearing to have no idea what he was talking about most of the night. Or maybe he was sincere,” writes Maurice Cunningham on Mass Politics Profs. (But look how deftly Gomez reminds us that he was a Navy SEAL while discussing Rand Paul’s filibuster: “I used to be a SEAL,” he says in response to a question about the 12 hour filibuster. I think I can go for a few days.”)

The winner of the April 30 primary will of course face a near impossible feat facing either Stephen Lynch or Ed Markey for the seat, but in the meantime, they’re at least giving us an interesting glimpse into a state party trying to redefine itself in the wake of their 2012 losses.