Last night in Massachusetts, Gabriel Gómez made history, becoming the first Latino to win a U.S. senate primary in a state that has rarely been known for its strong Latino population. In fact, Gómez is the first Latino to win any statewide primary. While some criticized Gómez for launching his campaign by speaking Spanish, in the end Gómez took 51% of the state’s GOP primary vote to easily defeat opponents Michael J. Sullivan (36%) and Dan Winslow (13%).
Granted, in a state as blue as Massachusetts, Gómez only garnered 88,928 votes, compared to Democratic primary winner Rep. Ed Markey, who took 294,602 votes, and Democratic runner-up Rep. Stephen Lynch (218,387 votes). Voter turnout was very low, since the state is still in a post-Marathon haze. But the rules are the rules, and Gómez won. He is now the state’s Republican candidate for the Senate. And like the Globe said today, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 3:1 margin, close to 53% of all the state’s voters are unenrolled.
Gómez’s story is that he is not a politician, having been a Navy Seal and a successful private equity businessman. So in a lot of ways Gómez is like former senator Scott Brown, the good-looking anti-politician. Gómez also grew up in Los Angeles, the son of Colombian immigrants. As his bio states, “With his mother only knowing a few words of English, Gabriel grew up speaking Spanish before learning English. Like so many other new American families, his parents overcame hardships to create a better life for their children. Gabriel’s upbringing in a grateful, first generation American family instilled in him a duty to give back to his country and led him to successfully seek appointment to the United States Naval Academy. Graduating from Annapolis with merit, Gabriel began his Navy service by earning an invitation to flight school and quickly earned his wings. Gabriel served the country flying E2-C Hawkeyes and C2-A Greyhounds off aircraft carriers.” Damn. You can’t make this up.
So, the narrative is set. Latino Republican candidate who made Massachusetts history against a career Democratic congressman who has served his constituents since 1977. While many are already saying that Markey will win easily, it is pretty clear that of all the candidates Markey’s campaign wanted to run against, Gómez was the last choice. All of a sudden, the Latino GOP candidate will get national attention. It will be really hard to peg Gómez as a member of the “extreme right,” and as the Globe writes, GOP strategists know that they have a good thing with Gómez.
“He’s a Republican, Hispanic, who comes across as moderate,” said James Innocenzi, a Virginia-based Republican strategist. “And right now the party is going after every Hispanic they can, realizing what happened in the presidential. He could emerge as a sort of marquee Hispanic candidate.”
Innocenzi added: “If it’s competitive, money will show up out of nowhere. If the general election is competitive, Republicans see a chance to steal a seat, and you could see a lot of money coming into Boston.”
Republicans wasted no time positioning Gomez as a natural heir to Brown’s upset legacy.
“You’re hitting all sevens in the slot machine once again,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican public affairs specialist in Washington, D.C. “This time you have a Hispanic Republican who has the potential for staying power in Massachusetts. Brown won, and lost his election. [Gomez] would have the potential to stick around for longer.”
So who knows where this will go, but yeah, it is still a big deal in Massachusetts, and it will become a big deal for the GOP as well. Better Latino outreach has to start somewhere. Who knows if Gómez is the answer, but he will get noticed.
Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.