BOSTON (AP) -- Democrat Edward Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez clashed in their first debate in the Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election, with each candidate trying to portray the other as out of step with ordinary citizens.
Gomez called Markey one of the most "hyper-partisan" members of Congress who is trying to scare voters. He said Markey is "beyond disgusting" for trying to link Gomez's positions on guns to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Markey fired back, calling the suggestion that he was trying to link Gomez to the massacre "ludicrous" and said Gomez, a political newcomer, is just recycling "the same old, stale Republican ideas."
On the issue of guns, the two staked out sharply different ground during the Wednesday night debate.
Markey said one of his top jobs in Washington is opposing efforts by the National Rifle Association to stymie gun control measures. He criticized Gomez for opposing a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and said Massachusetts should be out front on gun laws.
"We're Massachusetts. We're special. We're supposed to be the leader," Markey said. "We need someone who is going to go down to Washington to take on the NRA."
Gomez defended his position and accused Markey of trying to scare voters. Gomez said he supported a recent, bipartisan proposal that came up in the Senate that would have mandated wider background checks for gun sales.
"I'm going to speak from the heart. I'm going to tell you the truth," Gomez said. "You want to be divisive about that instead of trying to fix the problem."
The two also split on the future of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.
Gomez said the law is hurting middle class families and small businesses. He pointed specifically to a tax on medical device manufacturers.
Gomez said it should be left up to individual states to address health care problems. He praised Massachusetts 2006 health care law signed by Gov. Mitt Romney, but said health care policy shouldn't be dictated by Washington.
"People who spend all their time down in D.C. live in a cocoon," Gomez said.
Markey also praised the state's 2006 law signed by Romney, but pointed out that the Massachusetts law became the blueprint for the 2010 federal law signed by Obama. Markey has said his vote for that law is one of the proudest of his career.
"You can't have it both ways," Markey said. "Romneycare became the model for the rest of the country."
Markey and Gomez are scheduled to participate in two more debates before the election on June 25.