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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

When John Kerry was tapped to be secretary of state, he left behind a seat in the U.S. Senate. Now a veteran Democratic congressman who's been in office 36 years will face off against a novice Republican candidate in the race to become the next U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez won their party primaries yesterday for that special election. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Gomez catapulted from zero name recognition to an impressive win with an impressive story: He's a Latino, first-generation American, a former Navy Seal, a self-made millionaire investment banker and a Massachusetts moderate Republican.

GABRIEL GOMEZ: If yours looking for a rigid partisan, I'm not your guy.

SMITH: Gomez says he supported President Obama in 2008 and agrees with him on gun control and immigration reform. He defeated a conservative former U.S. attorney and an incumbent state representative. Gomez argues the GOP needs another moderate voice and Massachusetts needs some new blood.

GOMEZ: The year was 1976. Gerald Ford was president, Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, eight-track players were big, the first "Rocky" movie had just debuted. Me? I was just playing Little League baseball, and that was when Ed Markey first got elected to Congress.

SMITH: For his part, Ed Markey offered a long list of his legislative accomplishments and cast the race along partisan lines.

REPRESENTATIVE ED MARKEY: The Republicans superPACs see this election as their first shot at stopping President Obama's agenda and gaining control of the United States Senate.

SMITH: Markey, who defeated the more conservative Congressman Seven Lynch for the nomination, made clear he'd be running as a liberal Democrat.

MARKEY: Social Security and Medicare are not entitlements; they were earned by people who spent their entire lives working.

SMITH: While Markey is favored to win in left-leaning Massachusetts, no one predicted Republican Scott Brown's upset in 2010. And Gomez is hoping he can do it again in June. As he put it, I'm not a career politician, but I can beat one. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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