National GOP Slow to Embrace Mass. Moderate Gomez
Massachusetts Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez's credentials would seem to fit the gold standard for the new breed of mass-appeal Republican that the GOP called for in an exhaustive postelection autopsy.
Yet the Washington-based national party and its most powerful allies have been reluctant to rally behind the fresh-faced Republican with the all-star resume, raising questions about the GOP's commitment to candidates who might help improve its standing among women and minorities.
"I told them from the beginning I'm going to win this with or without D.C.," Gomez said this week. In a tough race in Democrat-friendly Massachusetts, he acknowledged that Democrat Ed Markey and Democratic allies have dramatically outspent him in the special election to replace former Sen. John Kerry, whom President Barack Obama chose as his secretary of state.
The election comes Tuesday, just three months after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus released a high-profile internal report that found many voters disillusioned with the modern Republican Party. Working to recover from Obama's re-election, the report's authors determined that future GOP success would depend upon Republicans who generate stronger support from women, Hispanics and younger voters.
In particular, the study called on Republicans to embrace "comprehensive immigration reform," recruit minority candidates, and become more "inclusive and welcoming" when dealing with contentious social issues.
Gomez, 47, is a native Spanish speaker born to a first-generation Colombian immigrant family. A former Navy SEAL turned businessman, he supports gay marriage and immigration reform, and while he personally opposes abortion, he says he wouldn't spend "a single minute of any day" changing abortion law in Washington if elected - all positions that seemingly would play well in liberal-leaning Massachusetts, where Republicans don't often win statewide races.
GOP officials say national party leaders see Gomez as exactly the type of candidate they want to broaden the party's appeal beyond its conservative base. The officials requested anonymity to describe party strategies they were not authorized to discuss by name.
For much of the campaign, Gomez was outspent by Markey and his national Democratic allies, who sent a river of money and political stars to Massachusetts - Obama and first lady Michelle Obama among them - on Markey's behalf.
National GOP leaders believe they did as much as they could by funneling resources through the state party, according to the party officials. And they did so under the radar, the officials said, in a careful effort not to link Gomez to an unpopular national GOP in a state Obama won by 23 points last fall. Still, pro-Republican outside groups, who poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 elections, largely ignored the race.
"He's an American hero and he was being abandoned by the Republican establishment," says John Jordan, a California-based Republican donor who was driven by frustration in recent weeks to create a super PAC that pledged to spend up to $1.3 million to help Gomez. "The Republican establishment says they want middle-of-the-road Latino candidates - here they had one."
With Jordan's help, Gomez and his supporters have narrowed Markey's spending advantage in recent weeks. As of Friday afternoon, Democrats invested $5.2 million in television advertising compared to $3 million on the Republican side, according to the Smart Media Group, which tracks political advertising. The figures don't include hundreds of thousands of dollars more than Democratic groups have devoted to political mailings and get-out-the-vote efforts designed to defeat Gomez.
"He was just left on the beach. I couldn't live with it," said Jordan, a self-described political centrist and 41-year-old CEO of the Jordan Vineyard and Winery.
He suggested that Gomez's case would create a chilling effect on the centrist Republican candidates needed to broaden the party's appeal in other parts of the country. Indeed, it's unclear whether Republican candidates gearing up for 2014 will be rewarded or punished for embracing the RNC's recommendations.
Former Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, is the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that promotes a centrist GOP agenda. He said Republican moderates such as West Virginia Senate candidate Rep. Shelly Moore-Capito, and former Reps. Robert Dold of Illinois and Doug Ose of California could face more conservative challengers in 2014 GOP primaries where moderation on immigration and social issues is often not rewarded.
LaTourette sees signs that the Republican Party already is beginning to distance itself from its new roadmap. He was initially encouraged by the RNC recommendations, but said that Republicans have been "doubling down" recently on far-right positions on abortion, immigration and health care.
"It's depressing. I just don't see the shift, at least at the national level," LaTourette said. "In order to become a national party, not just a regional party, we have to have more guys like Gomez in Massachusetts."
To be sure, national Republicans have not ignored Gomez altogether. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP's formal Senate campaign arm, devoted four staff members to the Massachusetts Senate contest. The group also transferred more than $800,000 to the state GOP to help fuel a pro-Gomez television advertising campaign, in addition to contributing $45,800 directly to the campaign and spending another $68,400 on polling and web ads.
"We are extremely proud to have invested so heavily - and worked so hard - to elect a first-generation American, Latino, Navy SEAL to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts," said NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring. "Our efforts forced Democrats and liberal interest groups to spend millions upon millions in the bluest of blue states."
Former Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Maine Republican who retired this year, says it's still unclear whether the national GOP will follow through on its plans to broaden its appeal.
"How aggressively they embrace moderate candidate across the country is the true test," Snowe said, suggesting that GOP leaders may have to experience more than one painful election cycle to commit to change. "I just don't know at what point they're going to confront the reality of the situation they're in."