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Massachusetts Senate hopefuls spar in first debate

The race to fill John Kerry's Senate seat has begun. Three candidates seeking the Republican nomination in the special election had their first debate tonight.

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Massachusetts Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate debated tonight at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. (L-R) Former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, and state Rep. Daniel Winslow.

Steven Senne / AP

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The three Republicans running in a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts sparred in their first debate of the campaign Tuesday night.

Norfolk state Rep. Daniel Winslow, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez jousted on everything from the recent across-the-board federal spending cuts to the use of the filibuster in the Senate.

The three also agreed on many of the issues raised during the matchup at Stonehill College, including the recent filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. All three said it was a legitimate tactic to force the Obama administration to clarify its drone policy.

The three also faulted Washington for failing to reach a deal to avoid $85 billion in sweeping spending cuts.

"Quite frankly, I think our government is trying to frighten us," Sullivan said.

Gomez said the cuts show a lack of seriousness among what he called "career politicians."

"People have a lack of confidence that is hindering economic growth," Gomez said. "In order to grow the economy, you have to have more confidence."

Winslow said the gridlock is more evidence of why the GOP needs to recast its image.

He said that's particularly important as the party hopes to reach out more to women, younger voters and minorities who backed Democratic President Barack Obama by hefty margins during last year's election.

Winslow said the party should sell itself as the party of those striving to succeed.

"We are not the grand old party," he said. "We have to be what we are, which is the growth opportunity party."

The three staked out largely similar positions on gun control, saying they support the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but said there should be efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Gomez and Winslow said they support some changes to the nation's immigration laws.

Winslow said the nation needs to make immigration simpler for those seeking to become citizens legally to help avoid the problems of illegal immigrants, but opposes amnesty.

"I think we have to have a comprehensive approach to immigration reforms," he said.

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