Gabriel Gomez thinks the tide is shifting his way.
A new poll, commissioned by a Republican donor, shows Gomez and his opponent, Representative Ed Markey, a mere point apart in Massachusetts’s special Senate election, scheduled for June 25. And Gomez thinks the scandals haunting D.C. right now, from the IRS to Benghazi to the seizure of journalists’ phone records, will make Massachusetts voters wary of electing someone who epitomizes D.C. like Markey, a Maryland resident who has been in Congress since 1976.
“This is really turning into a D.C. army versus me and my army of Massachusetts,” Gomez says in an interview. “I think he’s running what you would call — and I’m biased obviously — a desperate, dirty, deceitful kind of campaign. It’s been negative ads from the beginning.” He adds, noting the new poll, “It’s like a complete shift in momentum in the last week and a half.”
He blasts Markey for bringing in D.C. mandarins, including DNC chairman and congressman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, President Obama, and Vice President Biden, to help campaign for him in the state. “This weekend he had Congressman [Xavier] Becerra come in from California to try to show he’s Latin,” Gomez says.
There is no doubt that Gomez has an uphill climb to win the seat. The poll showing Markey only a point ahead is an outlier — a Suffolk University poll released yesterday showed Markey seven points ahead of Gomez. But there are two debates left, both chances for Gomez, who did well in the two’s first debate, to gain more traction. The widely trusted Cook Political Report has had the race as a toss-up since the beginning of June,
The Republican candidate is new to the political scene, having run only once before, in a local race. (He lost.) He served in the military for nine years, first as a Naval Aviator and then as a Navy SEAL. He then attended Harvard Business School, and went to work in private equity. His work in the industry, Gomez says, has showed him how tough it can be for businesses to be competitive when they are burdened with D.C.’s onerous regulations.
Gomez decided to jump into politics because he was worried about the future that awaited his four school-age children. “I’m concerned,” he says, “that if we stay down the same path we’re on, then my kids and everybody else’s kids aren’t going to have the same chances I had when I was young to have their dream or at least chase their dream.”
Gomez, who is wearing his SEAL Trident pin and Naval Aviator wings on his lapel (and sits with the upright posture one might expect of a former military man), attended the Naval Academy. “I’d always been a good swimmer, and I always liked the water,” he says. Gomez was also influenced by the fact that John F. Kennedy had served in the Navy. “He was a Navy guy. He was a young guy who was charismatic. He was just a symbol of hope and what the country wanted at that time,” Gomez muses. When he read about Kennedy as a student, “I was just drawn to him.” (Gomez also names Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as political inspirations.)
After the Naval Academy, he became a pilot of Navy cargo and communications planes, off of aircraft carriers. “I love flying,” Gomez says, but adds that there’s one part of his service he doesn’t miss: “I never enjoyed the initial part of any parachute jump.” He hasn’t skydived recently (his wife has suggested that the sport isn’t a good choice for a father of four), but he knows one scenario where he’d skydive again in heartbeat. “I could be talked into it if George H. W. Bush wants to go do it,” he says, joking that they could do it for Bush’s 90th birthday, as the president did for his 85th.
After his aviation tenure, Gomez’s work as a Navy SEAL took him to various South American countries, including Colombia and Peru. Once, in a personal rather than an official capacity, he accompanied some medics on a humanitarian trip, and was impressed by Americans’ generosity abroad. “A lot of them,” Gomez recalls of the people he saw treated, “had never had their teeth checked or never had a check-up by a doctor.”
He met his wife, Sarah, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She was working as a Peace Corps volunteer there, teaching special-needs children. “There’s no Democrat I can’t work with,” Gomez jokes. “I would argue that if a Navy Seal can talk a Peace Corps volunteer into marrying him, I think I can work with anybody.”
If elected, Gomez hopes to build relationships with senators from both parties. When I ask him about his statement last week that he would like to make the Gang of Eight a “Gang of Nine,” he quickly says, “I’d like to make it the gang of ten if Elizabeth Warren would join me.” He also singles out John McCain as someone he’d like to work with, particularly on immigration reform.
Gomez doesn’t intend to consistently toe the party line. He easily rattles off a list of five issues on which he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the Republican party. Gun control (Gomez wants expanded background checks, and supports the Toomey-Manchin bill) and immigration reform are two of them. And he supports gay marriage: “I think if people are in love, they should be able to get married,” he says. Gomez is fine with states deciding whether to permit gay marriage or not, but he does want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed.
The candidate says, “I hope to represent all the people, as opposed to just a privileged view. I’m a green Republican. I believe in climate change. A lot of my friends in the Republican party try to deny science.” But, he adds, “I think a lot of Democrats deny math.”
Gomez stresses that he is a Republican at heart. “I’ve been a Republican my whole life,” he says. “I’m Republican because I believe in the core Republican principles of more personal responsibility, more personal freedom, and smaller, more effective government.”
Gomez, whose parents are immigrants, also thinks his Hispanic heritage could help him be an effective ambassador for the GOP. He learned Spanish before English as a child and speaks it frequently, and says he’s done some stump speeches and Q&As in Spanish. He has hope for GOP outreach to Hispanics, saying he’s “found through the campaign that they’re extremely receptive.”
Ultimately, Gomez thinks that if Bay State voters get to know the real him, he’ll beat Markey.
“He’s trying to scare people into thinking that I’m somebody I’m not,” Gomez says.“And I think it’s because he’s scared, because knows what the polls are showing.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.