Decision 2020

Markey, O'Connor Face Off in Senate Debate

Monday's was the first and only scheduled debate in the general election contest for U.S. Senate

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Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and Republican challenger Kevin O'Connor sparred on everything from mask-wearing to the Green New Deal in their first and only scheduled debate Monday.

The matchup was hosted by GBH News with each candidate in a different studio at the station — a last minute logistical change the station said was needed to help protect against the coronavirus. The original plan was to have both candidate in the same studio while socially distanced.

The two immediately split on the issue of whether to mandate the wearing of masks to combat the coronavirus.

O'Connor said he backs guidelines that encourage the use of masks but opposes a mandate. Markey said he supports mask mandates as public safety measures to help slow the spread of the virus, including fines if necessary.

"I do think we're going to need enforcement going forward," he said.

The 58-year-old O'Connor — an attorney and business owner — tried repeatedly to portray the 74-year-old Markey to the far left of his own party, pointing to his support of measures like the Green New Deal and "Medicare for All," which haven't been embraced by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

"He's outside the mainstream of his own party," O'Connor said.

Markey responded by trying to tie O'Connor as tightly as possible to President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Trump remains largely unpopular in Massachusetts.

"The last thing we need in Massachusetts is to send another Republican down to help Mitch McConnell stop a green energy revolution, to stop the expansion of health care benefits," Markey said.

The two also clashed on the issue of health care, including the latest Republican bid before the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provides more than 20 million people with health insurance.

O'Connor said he supports that challenge, but wants to make sure that protections included in the law aimed at individuals with preexisting conditions are preserved.

"I support a challenge so long as we immediately address preexisting conditions," he said, adding that "Sen. Markey advocates for the end of private health insurance," with his support for a Medicare for All program.

Markey said his first goal is to try to protect the Affordable Care Act from being "eviscerated," and then moving to expand health care to everyone in the country.

"We have a health care system that is broken," he said.

The two also sparred on whether to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

O'Connor opposes the move, calling it court-packing, but Markey said Democrats should consider the move if Republicans press ahead with plans to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court before the Nov. 3 election.

O'Connor faces a daunting challenge in a state that leans heavily Democratic. There are currently no Republican members of the state's congressional delegation.

Markey is coming off a hard-fought Democratic primary win, having defeated his 39-year-old challenger U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a member of America's most famous political family.

Markey is coming off a hard-fought Democratic primary win, having defeated his 39-year-old challenger U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a member of America's most famous political family.

Markey was able to propel himself to a win over his younger rival in part by harnessing the backing from progressive leaders including New York Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with whom he introduced the Green New Deal resolution.

During the debate, O'Connor said that while he opposes the proposal, he back other efforts to combat climate change, including pushing for carbon neutrality by 2050 and encouraging new technologies to reduce the impact of humans on the planet.

Markey has served for decades in Congress, first in the House and later in the Senate.

O'Connor defeated fellow Republican Shiva Ayyadurai in the Massachusetts GOP Senate primary.

The election is Nov. 3, although voters will be able to cast ballots ahead of Election Day using mail-in ballots, early voting polling locations and drop boxes in many communities.

Markey also has considerably more fundraising prowess in the contest. As of mid-August, he reported having $3.5 million in his campaign account compared to $126,000 for O'Connor.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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