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GOP Senate Candidates Tackle Economy, Social Security, Immigration at First Debate

State Rep. Daniel Winslow, former U.S. attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and former Navy SEAL Gabriel E. Gomez discussed a wide-range of issues in the hour-long debate

The quest to become the "Washington outsider" representing the Republican Party in this year's Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election was underway at Stonehill College Tuesday night when GOP candidates met in their first primary debate.

"Electing either of the Democratic nominees would be a sign of 'surrender' that we have given up," State Rep. Daniel B. Winslow (R-Norfolk) said in his closing statement, referring to U.S. Congressmen Ed Markey (D-Malden) and Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston).

Winslow, former U.S. attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and former Navy SEAL Gabriel E. Gomez discussed a wide-range of issues in the hour-long debate, including Roe vs. Wade, gun control, immigration, social security and the economy.

The debate was sponsored by WickedLocal, WGBH and WCVB and a journalist panel of WGBH's Adam Reilly, Janet Wu of WCVB, and Chris Burrell of the Patriot Ledger delivered questions. Stonehill professor Peter Ubertaccio moderated.

The three candidates disagreed on little, with a common theme centering around Washington's dis-functionality and it's need to be fixed.

The theme rose to the surface when discussing the economy and the recently-enacted sequester, which seemingly had little immediate impact on job growth.

"I think sticking with the status-quo is a complete failure on the part of our government," Sullivan said.

"I think we’re far to high too celebrate," he added, referring to the nation's 7.7 unemployment rate.

Gomez, who criticized "career politicians" and lobbyists during his closing remarks, said little was getting done in Washington because of the "lack of courage."

"We don’t have a lack of ideas down in D.C. right now, what we have is a lack of courage," he said while discussing social security.

Gomez said it was "sad that Scott Brown lost because he’s the kind of person that we need down in D.C. recommending the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

All three candidates agreed that Brown's loss to Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 election was evidence that Republicans weren't reaching the right people.

"We have to be what we are, which is the great opportunity party and have that message - that message of hope - be the message that we reach out to American voters," Winslow said.

In regards to Social Security, the three candidates believed raising the age of retirement might contribute to the problem surrounding Social Security, while emphasizing that current seniors should remain unaffected.

Winslow, Sullivan and Gomez also put strong emphasis on mental health background checks when discussing gun control. Gomez said an assault weapons ban was ineffective in 1994 and would still be ineffective while Sullivan said any all-out ban would be "completely ineffective."

Winslow said he would consider three things when debating gun legislation including whether or not it would prevent tragedies like Newtown, whether or not it would "stop kids from killing with illegal guns in inner cities" and whether or not it would adhere to the Bill of Rights.

The three candidates also said they wouldn't agree with a litmus test if and when they confirmed a new Supreme Court judge. Rather than focus on issues, such as Roe vs. Wade, the candidates agreed that judges should adhere to the constitution and remain ethical.

On the subject of immigration, Winslow said the "immigration bureaucracy" should be reformed and a "comprehensive approach to immigration reform" should take place.

Gomez, the son of two Columbian immigrants, said he did not believe in amnesty, the border should be secured, and Congress should work to create a pathway to citizenship that is "not easy but not impossible."

Sullivan said there "needs to be consequences" for those who break the law and amnesty should be granted for undocumented immigrants who served in the military.

One area candidates disagreed was in regards to leadership "style." Wu asked Winslow about his "“out of the box theatrics," including an incident when the State Rep. sent Gov. Deval Patrick jars of fluff to emphasise the government's need to eliminate fluff from the state budget.

"It engaged the dialogue," Winslow said. "In fact, I got a letter back from the Governor’s chief and he actually agreed with a lot of the ideas."

"I’m comfortable with who I am," Gomez responded. "My actions speak for themselves and I don’t need to grandstand like that."

"I could not see myself participating in that type of theatrics unless it is for the sole purpose of finding it humorous," Sullivan added.

Although they were not related to the issues, Winslow separated himself from the pack in other ways. He delayed the debate by five minutes by arriving late and was the only person to stand during his closing statement.

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