Could Gabriel Gomez pull a 'Scott Brown' and win Massachusetts Senate race?

Massachusetts Democrats are resolved not to repeat the mistakes of 2010, which allowed a GOP moderate with a fresh face and some charisma to prevail in a solid blue state. But GOP candidate Gabriel Gomez, like Scott Brown before him, is generating buzz.

Elise Amendola/AP
US Senate candidate Ed Markey shakes hands with a supporter in Boston on Tuesday, as he celebrates winning the Democratic primary.
Steven Senne/AP
Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez (c.) celebrates his primary victory at a watch party in Cohasset, Mass., on Tuesday.

The next US senator from Massachusetts will be either Rep. Ed Markey or Gabriel Gomez, who won primary votes Tuesday to become the Democratic and Republican Party nominees.

Representative Markey emerges from the primary as the clear front-runner.

He’s well known locally as the state’s longest-serving current member of Congress. And he’s a Democrat in a state where that party is clearly dominant. The Bay State’s congressional delegation is all Democratic.

That leaves the question: With about eight weeks until the June 25 special election to decide this race, what chance does the Republican have?

Mr. Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, is obviously the underdog, but here’s the optimistic case for his candidacy in two words: Scott Brown.

Mr. Brown was a state senator back in 2009, little known around the state, yet came on to win an upset special election for the US Senate seat vacated when Sen. Edward Kennedy died. That vote was proof positive that a political moderate, with some charisma, can win a statewide election.

Like Brown, Gomez is relatively young, moderate, and a man with a record of military service. Where Brown could cite his service in the Army National Guard, the newest Republican nominee served in the Navy's most-storied special ops branch. He's also a fresh face.

All that means: Don’t count him out.

But at the same time, none of that changes Markey’s distinct advantages.

He’s already a holder of elective office and has behind him the Democratic machinery of a party eager not to repeat the mistakes – and the outcome – of that 2010 special election.

Moreover, 2013 isn’t 2010. The climate that helped enable Brown’s victory back then was one of political volatility in the immediate wake of a financial crisis – a volatility also seen in the tide of Tea Party victories later that year.

Today, by contrast, Gomez is running in the wake of a disappointing loss for Brown, who couldn’t hold his seat against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in November. When the state’s other Senate seat opened up, as Sen. John Kerry (D) left to become President Obama’s secretary of State, Brown opted not to mount another Senate bid. As a reason, he cited exhaustion after all his recent campaigning.

Markey is known as a strong advocate for environmental protection. And in a state where many female voters gravitated toward Ms. Warren last November for her pro-choice stance on abortion, he’s been embraced by groups including Planned Parenthood.

On his website, Gomez says that “I am a proud Catholic, and pro-life,” while adding that he considers the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, marking its 40th anniversary this year, to be settled law.

In a recent TV debate against other Republican hopefuls, Gomez hinted at the path he’ll have to pursue to make the race competitive.

“I’m one of you,” he told viewers.

He’ll need to use his immigrants'-son-makes-good personal story, and convey a common-man appeal, to sway independents and some Democrats to the view that they should choose him rather than have the state be represented by two liberals in the US Senate.

An early April poll tested how voters felt about potential matchups for the June special election. In the scenario that's now playing out (Markey versus Gomez), 51 percent of likely voters said they'd opt for Markey, compared with 36 percent for Gomez, the Western New England University Polling Institute found.

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