Can Republicans win John Kerry's Senate

May 09 [Thu], 2013, 18:23

If Gabriel Gomez upsets Democrat Ed Markey, he'll be the first Republican to do so since, well, Scott Brown

Rep. Ed Markey (D) and businessman Gabriel Gomez (R) handily won their respective primaries in Massachusetts on Tuesday. But as the veteran Democratic lawmaker and Navy SEAL veteran prepare for a two-month dash to the June 25 special election to fill Secretary of State John Kerry's Senate seat, a third name is hanging over the race like a beacon of hope (for Gomez) or warning signal (for Markey).

Will Gomez "be the next Scott Brown?"  — a question being posed by just about every political handicapper and operative in the country. Brown, a little-known GOP state lawmaker, won a 2010 special election for U.S. Senate in an upset over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D). Republicans hope Gomez, a political neophyte with an attractive face and personal story, is able to capture the same coalition of Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats who pushed Brown to victory.

Markey starts out the favorite in a state where Democrats hold a strong voter-registration edge and the national Republican Party is pretty unpopular. But "Democrats have good reason to be worried," . About half of Massachusetts' registered voters are independents, and "Gomez has substantial appeal that transcends party." His parents are Colombian immigrants, so Gomez didn't learn English until kindergarten, and— Navy pilot and SEAL officer, Harvard MBA, millionaire private-equity investor — and socially moderate positions make him the kind of Republican "who can be elected with ease in a blue state." Just ask Scott Brown.

Brown, of course, lost his bid to serve a full term last November. And as political forecaster Larry Sabato notes:

Dozens tell me Gomez is next Scott Brown. By my count since '10, this makes Gomez 35th next Scott Brown.

— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato)

Democrats would have been better off choosing Markey's more conservative rival, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), . And Gomez's enviable attributes — "handsome, youthful, Hispanic, and bilingual," plus private-sector success — make him "a viable candidate." Still, Gomez has very long odds:

The chances of Gomez becoming the second coming of Scott Brown are slim. The fact that Brown is thinking of running for office in New Hampshire tells you that even he doesn't think there's going to be a second coming for him in the Bay State. Also Markey is no Martha Coakley. Unless Markey says or does something absolutely stupid, he will most likely become Massachusetts' next senator. []

Political "inexpertise can become a political boon, especially on the Republican side," . But "Gomez isn't quite the political naif that he's selling to the Commonwealth." In the 2012 election, he cut an ad for "the group of SEALS who accused the president of using the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed for crass political purposes." And he wrote a letter asking Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) to appoint him to the vacant Senate seat when Kerry resigned. "Guess what, Gabriel? You're a politician."

With Markey's 36 years in the House, though, this will fundamentally be "a classic outsider versus career politician race," The Cook Report's Jennifer Duffy . Gomez will work hard to convince voters that he's an independent voice, not a conservative Republican, and that Markey is a "creature of a dysfunctional Congress." Markey will tout his accomplishments and argue that Gomez is "an ideological chameleon, and thus cannot be trusted." All things considered, Gomez is the underdog, and "I don't intend to change the rating from where it is now — Solid Democrat.

In hindsight, "Scott Brown's win was like lightning in a bottle," a mixture of a backlash against Democrats and ObamaCare plus damaging gaffes by the Democrat, Coakley, . But it's not all bad news for Republicans.

If nothing else, showcasing Gomez gives them a top candidate with a profile they badly need to replicate across the country — a young, Hispanic moderate.... Even if Gomez... ultimately does fall short, if he runs an impressive campaign, expect his name to pop up for other offices in the Bay State — maybe even a 2014 rematch with Markey, when the seat is regularly scheduled to be up. For Republicans, boosting Gomez may be a win-win even if it's not a win at the ballot box on June 25. []

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