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Massachusetts Senate race: Can Republican Gomez win over more women voters?

Massachusetts Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez faces a gender gap, especially after several gaffes on social issues. But he's recently made statements that may appeal more to women voters.

By Correspondent / June 14, 2013

Massachusetts Senate race: Republican Gabriel Gomez speaks during a debate with Democratic Congressman Edward Markey, Tuesday, June 11, in the studios of WGBY in Springfield, Mass. Gomez faces a gender gap, especially after several gaffes on social issues.

Dave Roback/Springfield-Republican/AP

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Boston

In the first month of the general election campaign for John Kerry’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts, Republican Gabriel Gomez developed a stable of reliable talking points as he crisscrossed the state in his trademark green bomber jacket. He was a Washington outsider, a nonpartisan reformer, and a former Navy SEAL with a personal commitment to America’s national security.

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But when prompted to discuss so-called women’s issues, his easy confidence suddenly deflated. He haltingly told reporters and debate audiences that he was “personally pro-life” but wasn’t headed to Washington to change the law, repeatedly dodging specifics on questions relating to abortion and women’s health.

Voters began to take notice. Between early May and early June, a set of polls from Boston public radio station WBUR showed Mr. Gomez’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, surging ahead with female voters – jumping from a 15-point advantage in early May to a 21-point lead this week.

That may not seem surprising, given the Democratic leanings of female voters nationwide. But in a deep blue state like Massachusetts, the calculus is different, says Shannon Jenkins, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.

This is the state, after all, where Republican Mitt Romney ascended to the governor’s mansion in 2003 on the promise that he would “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.” (He later changed course.) On social issues important to female voters – reproductive rights, gun control, the social safety net – Massachusetts Republicans often seem closer to their Democratic opponents than to the GOP in Washington.

“Gomez has tried to distance himself from the Republican Party on issues that are a priority to women,” Ms. Jenkins says. “He doesn’t want to say he’s pro-choice exactly, but he knows that in Massachusetts, you also can’t say you’re pro-life and going to Washington to do something about it.”

That’s an awkward dance, however, and it’s led to some perplexing moments on the campaign trail. In the first debate between the two candidates last week, for instance, Gomez appeared caught off guard when asked if he would support a 24-hour mandatory waiting period for a woman wishing to have an abortion.

“On that specific one, I think asking someone to wait 24 hours before they can go and actually have an abortion isn’t asking a lot,” he said.

The next day, his campaign clarified: Gomez had misspoken. If the issue came up in the Senate, the campaign said, he would vote against a waiting period.

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