- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and Republican challenger Brian Herr squared off Friday over the nation’s response to Ebola, the situation in Syria and Iraq and President Barack Obama’s health care law during their first televised debate.

The two candidates drew sharp policy distinctions throughout the half-hour face-off on NECN.

Herr said the country should institute a ban on travel to the U.S. from Ebola-stricken West African countries.

“We are putting lives at risk when we don’t put a travel ban in place to those countries,” said Herr, a businessman and former Hopkinton selectman. “We need that travel ban now.”

Markey said the nation should listen to those with the most experience when it comes to the deadly virus.

“What we need to do is to be guided by the best public health recommendations,” he said, “not political decisions.”

Markey also praised Obama for naming an “Ebola czar” - Ron Klain. Markey said Klain used to be on his staff.

The two also split on the Obama administration’s actions against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Markey said he opposes putting U.S. troops on the ground. He said the country needs to focus instead on training the Iraqi army, continuing the bombing campaign, aiding Kurdish fighters and maintaining a broad regional alliance.

“If we do that, I think we can have a success story in Iraq,” Markey said.

He said there should also be a vote in Congress, particularly before the commitment of any ground forces.

Herr also said he opposed putting U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria, but he was far more critical of Obama, saying he would have supported arming Syrian rebels, something the president had opposed.

“The bigger issue with ISIS is that we don’t have a clear foreign policy that’s concise and understood not only by the people of America but by our enemies and allies abroad,” Herr said. “We’ve got to have a foreign policy that people understand.”

Markey and Herr also sparred on the 2010 health care overhaul law.

Herr said he would vote to end the law if elected.

“I think it’s very important that we make sure Obamacare is repealed or redirected back to the states,” said Herr, who said his mother recently lost her health insurance because of the law. “It is not manageable centrally controlled out of Washington, D.C.”

Markey defended the law, pointing to its more popular elements including the prohibition on the denial of health coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Markey also drew parallels with Massachusetts’ 2006 health care law that provided the blueprint for the federal law. Markey said the state law ended up helping insure about 98 percent of residents.

“The longer that this (federal law) goes in terms of its implementation is the greater likelihood that the result that we see here in Massachusetts is going to happen across the country,” he said. “People in Massachusetts do not want to repeal our law now. The same story is going to occur all across the story in state after state.”

Markey, who won a special election last year to complete John Kerry’s Senate term, is now seeking his a full six-year term after serving 37 years in the House.

The election is Nov. 4.

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