By Alexandra Jaffe - 05/21/13 11:46 PM EDT
More than a month after the Boston Marathon bombing, the Massachusetts Senate candidates have become embroiled in an emotionally charged fight over national security.
Rep. Edward Markey (D) is pushing back against his GOP opponent, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, who said Tuesday the congressman’s votes against two resolutions honoring the victims of 9/11 were “unconscionable.”
At an event Monday with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Republican candidate criticized Markey for voting against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
Markey responded by touting an endorsement from The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) union, which argued the Democrat has actively worked to safeguard airplanes from potential terrorists during his tenure in Congress.
The union, which represents American Airlines employees, cited Markey’s recent efforts to convince the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to drop its plans to allow small knives onto airplanes for the first time since 9/11.
“Ed Markey has been a strong and consistent advocate for aviation safety,” APFA President Laura Glading said in a statement.
“Whether it was pushing for 100 percent air cargo screening or, more recently, keeping weapons out of airplane cabins, he has always put the security of the American people first.”
Markey also produced an advocate for 9/11 first responders, John Feal, to defend his record on national security.
“Ed Markey’s record speaks for itself, and the 9/11 community is forever grateful to Ed Markey for supporting us. He’s always lent a helping hand,” Feal said on a conference call.
Markey and Gomez are competing for the Senate seat that was vacated in January by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The GOP candidate said this week that “Markey’s record on homeland security is just too weak for the world we live in.”
Markey defended his votes against the two resolutions paying tribute to 9/11 victims, telling reporters that he opposed them because their Republican authors had implicated Saddam Hussein in the attacks.
“I did not vote for the resolutions where the Republicans then stuffed into those resolutions actual statements saying that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11,” Markey said, according to The Associated Press. “I can’t say that to the people of Boston.”
Andrew Zucker, a spokesman for Markey called Gomez’s attacks “despicable.”
Another spokesman told The Boston Globe that Markey voted against reauthorizing the Patriot Act — after voting for it initially — because he doesn’t support “giving permanent, overly broad powers to investigate private records without consistent oversight and public debate.”
Markey leads Gomez by 8.7 points in the Real Clear Politics average of four polls conducted this month on the Massachusetts race.
Gomez’s shift in focus to national security comes after he spent the past few weeks defending a controversial tax deduction he took on his home in 2005.
It also marks a repeat of similar efforts by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) to raise doubt about Markey’s national security credentials during the Democratic primary.
Gomez on Tuesday blasted Markey for using Republicans as an “excuse” to vote against the 9/11 resolutions.
“More than 95 percent of all congressmen across the country — Republicans and Democrats – voted for these resolutions. It’s shameful that Congressman Markey tries to make everything partisan and political,” he said in a statement.
The emotions stirred in Massachusetts by the Boston terror attacks have the potential to make national security a potent issue in the June 25 special election. Republicans are hoping Gomez’s military service will play well among voters in deep-blue Massachusetts.
Gomez ran the Boston Marathon and crossed the finish line mere minutes before two bombs exploded nearby.
If boosted by expenditures by outside groups, Republican attacks on national security could drive up Markey’s negatives.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has indicated it plans to spend in the race, but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger.
Outside groups on both sides look to be waiting for the opening volley before they get involved, a shift that could substantially shake up the race.
Keith Laing contributed.