The best advantage Gabriel Gomez has in the Senate race in Massachusetts is timing.
After Scott Brown’s loss to Elizabeth Warren last fall, few Republicans in Massachusetts hold much hope that a Republican candidate could emerge the winner in a regular election, particularly one that coincides with a presidential election. But the June 25 special election — in which turnout will likely be low — is a different matter.
“Any time a Republican runs for statewide office, it’s an uphill climb, but they have better chances in off-year elections and in special elections than they do in presidential years,” says Ryan Williams, a GOP consultant who worked for Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. “It is virtually impossible as a Republican to win statewide office during a presidential year, given the turnout.”
There is no doubt that Gomez, who won the GOP primary Tuesday, is the underdog. His Democratic rival, 20-term congressman Ed Markey, raised significantly more money than Gomez did and has the advantage in blue Massachusetts. Markey received more votes in the Democratic primary than did all the candidates on the Republican side. Republicans are clear-eyed about the formidable numbers. “We have to win probably 60 to 70 percent of independents, and we have to win 10 to 20 percent of the Democrats,” estimates Brad Dayspring, communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
But Republicans are hoping that Gomez can pull off a surprise victory. Eric Fehrnstrom, who advises a super PAC backing Gomez, describes the race as “between Ed Markey, who’s a government insider who’s never really had a job outside of politics, and Gabriel Gomez, a fresh-faced reformer with a compelling personal story and a plan to change Washington.” In Fehrnstrom’s mind, Gomez’s private-sector background (he is a private-equity investor) and military past (he was a Navy SEAL) may help give him an edge on economic and national-security issues, with the latter being fresh in voters’ minds after the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
“I do see parallels to the Scott Brown campaign in 2010,” adds Fehrnstrom, who was a top adviser to Brown in that campaign. “With Scott Brown, it was hard to convince people in the primary to give him much attention, because no one gave him much of a chance of winning. But then he became the nominee, and he got a second look, and donors opened their wallets. I think the same thing is going to happen with Gabriel Gomez.” Fred Van Magness, a Massachusetts GOP consultant, thinks that interest picked up in the primary at the end, and predicts that Republicans’ interest will continue to grow. “I think we’re kind of licking our wounds a little bit after the Scott Brown loss last year, and that we’re all trying to get back into the swing of things,” he remarks.
Lenny Alcivar, Gomez’s communications director, says the plan is to attack Markey as a career politician mired in the past. And they want the race to be about the economy and jobs. “We’re going to make sure that voters — independent voters, conservative Democrats, and obviously Republicans — understand that in this election, Congressman Markey will say anything and do whatever it takes to avoid talking about the issues that matter: jobs, our spending problem, and the economy,” he says.
Markey’s liberal record is indisputable: National Journal ranked him one of the most liberal House members (14 members tied for first place, while another three tied with Markey in second place), and the progressive group Americans for Democratic Action gave him a 100 percent rating in 2011, the most recent year available. He co-authored the controversial Waxman-Markey legislation, which would have initiated a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. And while even Warren voted to remove the medical-device tax from Obamacare, Markey has twice voted against repealing it — although he said would support repeal if it were paired with a revenue-raiser to offset the losses from eliminating the tax.
“He’s a liberal, he’s uninspiring, he’s boring, he’s completely unaccomplished,” says Williams. “You cannot name one major accomplishment that he has [had] during his decades in Congress.” NRSC’s Dayspring, who notes that Markey hasn’t faced a significant contest since the mid Nineties, says that “he leads every sentence like the typical politician who’s been in Washington for 40 years: ‘I did this, I did that, when this was before Congress, I, I, I . . . ’” It’s a way of speaking that could well alienate voters fed up with Washington.
Christine Morabito, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, is uncertain whether as many tea partiers will campaign for Gomez as did for Scott Brown in 2010. Tea partiers, she says, are not pleased about Gomez’s stances on gun control and health care, but “our core beliefs on economics and fiscal issues are more aligned with his” than with Markey’s.
“Talking to our membership, I believe he’ll receive both enthusiastic support from many members and maybe grudging support from others who just can’t imagine Ed Markey as their next senator,” Morabito remarks.
Fehrnstrom predicts that the Senate race will become more high-profile as Election Day nears. “You’re going to see national media take an interest in the race because of what Gabriel Gomez represents, a Hispanic-American from a first-generation immigrant family, a patriotic Navy SEAL who is pro–gay marriage,” he says.
“For those who were looking to rewrite the GOP playbook in the wake of the 2012 presidential election,” Fehrnstrom adds, “you couldn’t find a better candidate to do that with than Gabriel Gomez.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.