Are Republicans Completely on Board With Gabriel Gomez?

by Stuart Rothenberg May 31, 2013 · 9:53 AM EDT

Republican strategists both associated with and independent of GOP nominee Gabriel Gomez’s campaign are growing increasingly frustrated by what they see as the unwillingness of establishment donors and conservative activists to get fully behind the candidacy of the first-time candidate for Massachusetts Senate.

“Republican donors around the country have demanded for years that we find candidates who have appeal outside the normal conservative coalition, as well as those who have interesting private sector backgrounds. You couldn’t find anyone who fits that description better than Gabriel Gomez,” said Brad Todd of OnMessage, Inc., the GOP consulting firm that handles strategy, media and polling for Gomez’s campaign.

“And conservative bloggers and self-proclaimed armchair experts have navel-gazed and pointed fingers since November,” Todd continued. “It is time for them to put away the sack cloth lab coats and grab an oar.”

Gomez runs well in most polls, trailing the Democratic nominee, longtime Rep. Edward J. Markey, by as few as 3 or 4 points to as many as 10 points. He certainly appears to have at least a chance of pulling off a major upset in the June 25 special election, but many Republican contributors have yet to be convinced that the contest is competitive.

Of course, Republican skepticism about Gomez’s prospects becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy if he can’t raise enough money to compete with the better funded Markey, who has had about a 3-to-1 spending advantage.

Gomez, like Scott P. Brown in the 2010 special election, is running as a moderate Republican, which is the only kind of Republican with any chance of winning a Senate contest in the Bay State. But many conservative activists seem less enthusiastic about Gomez than they were about Brown in 2010.

Shortly before Massachusetts’ 2010 special election, RedState’s Erick Erickson wrote, “Scott Brown is not a conservative.” But he also observed that Brown would “vote against Obamacare and he’d vote against a second stimulus,” and that “conservative and liberal Republicans are united behind Scott Brown.” Erickson has been notably silent about this special election.

For some Republicans, the Gomez-Markey matchup apparently doesn’t have the urgency that Brown’s race with Martha Coakley had.

Back then, conservatives knew that a Brown victory would deny Senate Democrats their 60-seat majority, and believed it would derail President Barack Obama’s health care initiative and deliver a message about his stimulus package and overall agenda. On the other hand, a Gomez victory would get the GOP to 46 seats in the Senate, up from 45.

For some Republicans, it’s simply unlikely for lightning to strike twice in Massachusetts. GOP contributors also believe that Democrats are better prepared for this special election than they were in 2010, and even if Gomez were to win, he’d have a hard time holding the seat in 2014.

To one GOP insider, Gomez’s problems with his own party stem from a larger problem: “So many Republicans thought we would win the presidency last year that they are now unable to believe that we can win anything.”

Democrats don’t seem particularly concerned about Markey, at least at this point. They generally concede that the contest is competitive but argue that the current political environment in Massachusetts and nationally is so different now – much better for Democrats than it was in 2010 – that they have a hard time believing that Gomez can overtake Markey.

And Democrats argue that whatever Gomez’s appeal, it doesn’t come close to Brown’s.

But while 2013 certainly isn’t 2010 and Gomez isn’t Brown, you’d think Republicans — contributors and activists from both wings of the party — would see the Massachusetts special election as an opportunity to build momentum and deliver another blow to a White House staggering from criticism from both sides of the aisle on the IRS and Associate Press controversies.

And a victory by Gomez would give Republicans one more officeholder who isn’t yet another old, white guy. For a party seeking to broaden its appeal, that would be no small development.