Republican Gabriel Gomez faces a steep challenge in Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts to replace former Democratic Senator John Kerry, who resigned to become Secretary of State.
A recent poll by Emerson College reported that Democratic Congressman, Ed Markey, was leading Gomez by double digits before the Massachusetts Senate special election on Tuesday.
The results of the polls are consistent with the strong democratic leanings of the liberal state, which voted strongly for President Obama in 2012 and returned the Senate seat back to a democrat when they elected Elizabeth Warren.
With low voter turnout expected, which will strongly favor Mr. Markey, there are few who believe Mr. Gomez will win. But the Massachusetts Senate race drew national attention largely because of the peculiarity of the Latino Republican candidate. With Mitt Romney’s loss among all ethnic groups in 2012, Gomez presented both Democrats and Republicans with the first post-election glimpse of what a Latino Republican candidate may look like in the future.
A former Navy Seal, successful businessman, and Harvard graduate, Mr. Gomez’s immigrant roots were the icing on the cake for the ideal Republican of the future in the changing demographic reality the GOP is currently struggling to adjust to.
But Mr. Gomez’ campaign is also an illustration of the obstacles Latino Republicans will have to overcome, as well. While Mr. Gomez would undoubtedly be better suited for a less partisan state, such as Nevada, New Mexico, or Colorado, Mr. Gomez faced other obstacles that are not likely to change for other Latino Republican candidates.
Most notably, Mr. Gomez had to contend with the policy disconnect between the more conservative GOP and the shifting liberal sensibilities of the country on social issues; and as a Latino Republican, there was a heightened awareness of Mr. Gomez’ loyalties not only by conservatives wary of supporting a candidate they consider to be a “Republican in name only,” (RINO), but by some Latinos who said they were hesitant to support a Latino in name only (LINO), due to his policy positions.
In a moment of what might be considered sheer apostasy for a Republican running in any future primary, Mr. Gomez denounced almost every red meat stance of the GOP in an attempt to sell himself as a “new Republican” candidate. In a notable interview, he said he was for gay marriage, pro-gun control, in favor of immigration reform, and that he believed in climate change.
When Trent Franks, an Arizona Representative, said that the incidence of pregnancy from rape was low, and therefore did not require an exception in his anti-abortion proposal, Mr. Gomez shot back at his fellow Republican by calling him a moron.
While attempting to soften the hard image of the GOP on social issues, Mr. Gomez took a much stronger stance on taxes, government spending, and pro-business policies; issues that are likely to resonate with a broader spectrum of voters.
However, Mr. Gomez was flanked not only on the right, but his identity as a Latino focused attention on his lack of participation and policy differences with Latino-based organizations. Though Gomez ran ads in Spanish, and demonstrating his comfort with his history and culture, the largest Spanish paper in the state endorsed his opponent, and no major Latino organization supported Mr. Gomez.
As Latino candidates are recruited by the GOP to help push the party forward, the question of cultural authenticity will be a burden for those Latino Republicans who have spent much of their time cultivating networks outside of the Latino community.
And ultimately, Latino voters are choosing candidates based on their policy positions, whether these candidates are Hispanic or not.