BOSTON (AP) — Businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez has won the Republican nomination to run in Massachusetts’ special election for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by John Kerry.
Unofficial returns show Gomez defeating former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and state Rep. Daniel Winslow in Tuesday’s primary.
In the June 25 special election, Gomez will face the winner of the Democratic primary between U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey.
Gomez is a newcomer to politics. He’s the son of Colombian immigrants and learned English in kindergarten. He became a Navy pilot and SEAL, earned an MBA at Harvard and launched a private equity career.
Kerry resigned from the Senate to become U.S. secretary of state.
Turnout was relatively light across the state on Tuesday as voters went to the polls to decide which Republican and Democratic candidates would win their party primaries and go on to campaign in the state’s second special U.S. Senate election in four years.
The race to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s former seat was overshadowed by the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, though turnout in the city was running slightly ahead of another special U.S. Senate primary three years ago in part because of an additional local race on Tuesday’s ballot, the state’s top elections official said.
Even before the April 15 bombing, the campaign had failed to capture the attention of voters compared with the 2010 special election following the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown won the Kennedy seat but was ousted last year in another high-profile race by Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. Two Democrats, both members of the state’s congressional delegation, and three Republicans were vying for their parties’ nominations to replace Kerry.
A win would help Senate Democrats maintain a caucus edge of 55-45 as they press forward on major issues including immigration and gun control.
The Boston Marathon bombing disrupted the political race, forcing the candidates to temporarily suspend their campaigns. The bombing also brought national security and terrorism issues to the fore in an election that was expected to turn on questions of the economy, gun control, taxes, immigration and abortion.
The Democratic primary pitted U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, who staked out more liberal positions, against fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch, a former ironworker who tried to appeal to the party’s working- and middle-class base.
Lynch had to defend his decision to vote against President Barack Obama‘s 2010 health care law, while Markey, who won his first elected office while in law school, fended off efforts to portray him as a Washington insider.
Markey was the better-funded of the Democratic candidates, having raised $4.8 million through the end of the last reporting period, compared with $1.5 million for Lynch.
Markey also benefited from outside spending. Of the more than $2.2 million spent by outside groups, nearly 84 percent went to him, an Associated Press review of Federal Election Commission reports found.
In the town of Wayland, in his congressional district, voters trickled in to polling places.
Holly Zaitchik, a retired Boston University professor, said she voted for Markey because “he’s done a terrific job of being there when anything important happens” in Washington.
Zaitchik also thought the marathon bombings might discourage voter turnout.
“There are a lot of people who are still down and not wanting to participate in things,” she said. “It’s disheartening.”
The GOP primary race pitted former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan against businessman Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Daniel Winslow, former legal counsel for ex-governor and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Gomez tried to portray himself as the new face of the Republican Party. The son of Colombian immigrants, he learned English in kindergarten, then went on to become a Navy pilot and SEAL, earn an MBA at Harvard and launch a private equity career.
Winslow said he was the only candidate with experience in all three branches of the government. After 12 years as a private attorney, he was appointed to a judgeship on the state’s district court in 1995. He served eight years and left to join Romney’s administration as chief legal counsel.
Sullivan pointed to his national security resume, which includes helping investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the failed attempt to blow up an airliner using shoe bombs.
Sullivan’s law enforcement and criminal justice background was critical for Peter Bochner, a Wayland voter who cast his ballot for Sullivan and said he wasn’t surprised at the relatively low turnout.
“Law enforcement gets the short shrift in political elections,” he said. “I just think it’s not a sexy election. I don’t think primaries, unless they are hotly contested, get a big turnout.”
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has said fewer than one in five registered voters could end up casting ballots.
The special Senate election is June 25. An independent candidate, Richard Heos, of Woburn, will be on the ballot with the Democratic and Republican primary winners.
Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick named his former chief of staff, William “Mo” Cowan, to fill Kerry’s seat on an interim basis until after the special election.