Republicans have talked about pursuing a different kind of candidate since what seems like forever. Heck, the national party even convened a special, secret task force just for that purpose late last year, after losing key demographic groups such as women and Hispanics.
Yet, given exactly the kind of candidate they hire people to find out in the hinterlands, Republicans are oddly not engaged with helping him to cross the finish line in a special election that would significantly stun Democrats.
Gabriel Gomez is a Massachusetts Republican running to fill John Kerry’s vacated U.S. Senate seat; the 47-year-old political newcomer is within striking distance of wounding Democrats right where it hurts.
Gomez, a first-generation American whose parents came here from Colombia, has a compelling life story that includes an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and service as a Navy SEAL and a fighter pilot. He is Roman Catholic, personally pro-life; fluent in Spanish; a father of four who met his wife when he was deployed as a SEAL in Grenada, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer.
His opponent, Congressman Ed Markey, began his Washington career the same year that Apple Computer was founded in Steve Jobs’ garage, that "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" was Billboard’s No. 1 song, and that the United States celebrated its bicentennial.
After dragging in opinion polls last month, down 17 points at one juncture, Gomez has drawn to within 7 points, according a poll last week by Suffolk University. It shows Markey with 48 percent support and Gomez with 41 percent among likely voters, a difference within the poll’s sampling-error margin of plus-or-minus 4 points.
Markey’s 10-point plummet in less than a month occurred mostly among women and independent voters.
"We have a race here," said pollster Dave Paleologos. "We’re seeing folks reconsidering their support, especially independents." Independent voters make up more than 50 percent of the electorate in the Bay State, he added.
Paleologos believes independents are rethinking their support because of deep concerns over the Obama administration’s bungled details regarding the deadly U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, the IRS’s targeting of conservatives, and the Justice Department’s targeting of the Associated Press and Fox News journalists.
"And it’s important to note that this poll was taken before we even knew about the National Security Agency monitoring citizens’ phone records and emails," he said, suggesting that the race may be even closer.
Republicans have spent ten years telling themselves that their problem with Hispanic voters on Election Day is fixable because those same voters share so many Republican values. But that will be just theory until they start electing Latinos to high-profile offices as Republicans.
Special elections present special opportunities; winning a special election as a surprise does more to reboot a party than a dozen blue-ribbon commissions, task forces, and post-mortem conferences could ever do.
Democrats know they have a problem; privately, they worry about Markey’s long, unremarkable Washington career. So they have called in the two best reinforcements they could think of: outside money, and some speechifying by Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, crickets – meaning, silence.
No overtly opinionated conservative bloggers have gone on the cable news shows to push for donations and noise for Gomez. No conservative talk-show hosts have given Gomez the royal treatment – which is interesting, because Gomez is everything outside-the-box that they claim to have been looking for, and then some.
It appears too many Republican donors and operatives are too scared to pull their noses out of the post-mortem reports and put them to the grindstone.
You can’t win if you don’t play. And it may be that a lot of Republicans are so depressed and disheartened by last November’s losses that they have determined they can’t win, so they won’t play.
Political movements, like armies, thrive on winning and wither on losing. Republicans lost in November and will keep withering until they win again.
The Gomez race is a very good place to bring home a win-win.
Regret is a lot more expensive than engagement. If Gomez doesn’t win on June 25, the party will suffer a hell of a headache of regret starting June 26.
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