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Why it's John McCain, maverick, stumping for Gomez in Massachusetts

In the Massachusetts Senate race, underdog Gabriel Gomez enlisted the help Monday of GOP maverick-in-chief John McCain. There's a reason he called on McCain and not, say, Newt Gingrich.

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Massachusetts Republicans have always been their own breed – cool-headed, socially centrist, and never totally in lockstep with the national party establishment.   

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“There’s a real battle going on for the GOP’s soul right now,” says Ray La Raja, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

On the one hand, he says, are the tea party and right-wing hardliners. On the other, there are the McCains and the Gomezes – moderates who speak a language of big-tent Republicanism that they hope will draw in the unsatisfied middle of the American electorate.

And the 47-year-old Gomez – who has never held political office and who donated to Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 – is in many ways emblematic of the new face the moderates would like to put on the party.   

He is the child of Colombian immigrants, comfortably speaks the language of military deployments and veterans’ benefits, and finished running this year’s Boston Marathon just minutes before two bombs exploded at the finish line.

“It’s still a dangerous world out there, and I’m not just talking overseas,” he said Monday, recalling his own panic as he struggled to find his family in the aftermath of the Boston attack.

Matters of national security, he said, shouldn’t be partisan. He drew cheers from the audience in this working-class neighborhood as he pledged to keep Americans safe, regardless of who it aligned him with politically. 

“He’s not a politician, and that’s breath of fresh air,” says Dorchester resident Barbara Trybe, one of the coveted independents Gomez is trying to swing into his camp. “He’s also a veteran, which is important to me because veterans aren’t wimps. They don’t back down.”

Ms. Trybe and her fellow independents, who make up 52 percent of registered voters in this state, will decide this race – if they turn out, that is.

This is a special election called to fill the Senate seat vacated by now-Secretary of State John Kerry. That’s a type of race that typically has a lower turnout. And those who do vote most reliably in them are the “most ardent partisans,” Mr. La Raja says. 

However, for McCain – who knows a thing or two about losing big races – what's important is what the Gomez candidacy reveals about the future direction of the Republican Party, no matter who wins on June 25. 

“It may not change a single vote, but I think it’s important for people like me, who believe in people like Gabriel, to come up and do whatever I can to help,” he said. “This is the next generation of leadership in this country.”

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