The Republican candidates for U.S. Senate leaned on their diverse backgrounds to explain positions on issues ranging from the economy and debt reduction to gay marriage during a Wednesday night debate.
Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and businessman from Cohasset, said that hearing from a variety of perspectives served him well in the military and he would bring those lessons to the senate.
State Rep. Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk), said "Obamacare is bad for Massachusetts" and adds federal bureaucracy on top of the state's system. He highlighted an upcoming legislative proposal on Beacon Hill to reduce health care costs.
Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said he would rein in spending by trimming fat in the federal budget while leaving vital military funding intact.
Wednesday night's debate, sponsored by the Boston Media Consortium and held at the Channel 5 studios in Needham, featured all five declared Republican and Democratic candidates.
During the Republicans' 30 minutes, moderator R.D. Sahl kept a tight rein on response times, allowing some exchanges between candidates. The candidates covered several topics including foreign policy.
A Postmortem on the GOP
Winslow, in the wake of the Republican National Committee's call for increased outreach to minorities, made a strong pitch for rebranding Wednesday night. He said he stands for freedom, respect and individual opportunity. He said the Republican party needs to better incorporate women, millennials and "new Americans."
"We have to show them we're not the 'Grand Old Party' anymore," Winslow said.
Gomez, who echoed that sentiment, said he does not need a 100-page report to tell him what the people want.
Sullivan said the party should focus on areas like fiscal stability, national security and energy.
"I’m proud to be a Republican," Sullivan said. “We connect with people best when we listen to people about their concerns.”
Defense of Marriage Act
With the U.S. Supreme Court this week hearing arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, the three candidates declared the federal government should not put itself between Americans and their decision to marry.
"I’m a federalist at heart," Sullivan said. "Things like the definition of marriage are best left to the democratic process.”
"I don’t like to have the federal government where we can avoid it. I think it’s a shame the Supreme Court has to decide this issue," he said.
Gomez pulled no punches on his position.
"If two people are in love, they should be able to get married, irrespective," Gomez said.
Balancing the Budget
The U.S. debt stands at $16 trillion and members of Congress have failed to pass a budget that would reduce spending by a significant percentage of that debt. As government officials look for ways to trim spending, the candidates spoke of restructuring Medicare and Social Security, two of the largest areas of federal expenditures.
On Social Security, Winslow said, "It’s an old house. It needs renovation. But we have to make sure we preserve the house.”
Winslow said he would like to see a commission examine how to maintain the program for future generations.
Sullivan said he disagreed with deferring those responsibilities to a unelected group.
"I would stand up and make difficult choices," he said.
Sullivan said lawmakers should address the nation's deficits and debt. However, Sullivan and the other candidates were mostly short on specifics of how to reduce the debt.
Gomez said he supports means testing benefits – "Warren Buffet probably doesn’t need his full benfits on Social Security," he said. Winslow said he would work to fix the program's disability fund, which could reach insolvency in 2016 and lead to the reduction of benefits.
When Winslow pressed Sullivan on specific debt reduction measures, Sullivan said that he would trim the 3 to 5 percent of government spending that has been identified as waste.
Sullivan also questioned Gomez on budgetary matters. During the debate and afterward, Sullivan repeated the line that someone needs more than "household budget" experience to be a Senator.
Gomez countered, saying he sat on the boards of private companies with budgets in some cases in the billions of dollars. "People don’t want someone who has been in politics the majority of their life," he added.
Abortion, Nuclear Weapons and Ben Bernanke
Candidates split on the abortion question.
"I’m Catholic," Gomez said. "I'm pro-life. But, I’m not going down to D.C. to change the law.”
Sullivan said that he has been pro-life his entire life, but that "we have to be practical in terms of solutions."
Educating young pregnant women and streamlining the adoption process are two positive answers, Sullivan said. Sullivan said he would not support a pro-life constitutional amendment.
On the threat of nuclear weapons posed by Iran and North Korea, Winslow said he supports tightened sanctions.
Gomez and Sullivan agreed Israel's safety should be the "tripwire" that triggers U.S. action against Iran.
"We need to do everything we can to protect and support Israel," Gomez said.
Each candidate also said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke should be replaced and the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.