Scott Brown grabbed national headlines three years ago when he became the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts since 1972. But despite high favorability in the liberal state, Brown was ousted last fall by progressive Elizabeth Warren (though he is rumored to be mulling a Senate run in New Hampshire).
Now, as voters prepare to fill John Kerry’s vacant U.S. Senate seat, three Republicans -- each of whom represents modern conservatism in varying degrees -- aim to prove that Scott Brown was no fluke.
“This is the first race of the 2014 cycle…and it’s in deep blue Massachusetts,” candidate Dan Winslow said in an interview with TAS. “Can you imagine the shock if the Republicans nominate a candidate who can actually take this race away from the Democrats and defy the expectations?" For a Republican to win, he added, “would completely destroy the sort of stock response that Scott Brown was an anomaly in Massachusetts.”
The question is what type of Republican it will take. Each candidate declares himself to be a “fiscal conservative” but shies away generally from other labels.
Mike Sullivan, a former state representative and U.S. attorney, has led in the polls through much of the competitive primary race. Sullivan is a self-proclaimed “independent Republican” and a Tea Party favorite. He is pro-life, and on the subject of gay marriage, said, “I’m a traditionalist. I’ve always believed that marriage is between one man and one woman. I also believe that states should decide the definition of marriage, not the federal government.”
Winslow, a lawyer and state representative with conservative fiscal principles and “moderate” social views, says he identifies as a “Lincoln Republican.” He's pro-choice, and when asked about his stance on gay marriage, he hearkens back to the 16th president. “I’m pro-equality,” he told TAS. “Lincoln stood for equality of black people, and he was subject to much vitriol and hatred and ultimately the sacrifice of his life, because he stood for the propositions of equality. America can only achieve its full greatness when all of us are equal.”
Rounding out the trio is Gabriel Gomez, a successful businessman and former Navy SEAL. Gomez, the son of Colombian immigrants, has been endorsed by former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and just recently took the lead in polling. Gomez views his lack of political experience as a positive. “I’m a common man with an uncommon desire to succeed, but I’m going to approach this job with a military man’s discipline, a father’s sensitivity, and a businessman’s experience, and that’s what I give my word on.”
On fiscal issues, the candidates seem to be in broad agreement. Sullivan said it is "unconscionable" that the U.S. Senate took four years to pass a budget, and he criticized the plan finally passed by the chamber in March for adding to the deficit. Winslow has campaigned on reversing unemployment, and has proposed detailed plans to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 26 percent. Gomez, a Harvard Business School graduate, rails against the $16 trillion deficit and Washington habit of spending money we don't have.
But none of these candidacies is without demons. For one thing, all three men have financially supported Democratic politicians in the past, leaving them to bicker over who gave the most and under what circumstances. Winslow in particular has been hit on this front, but he says that attack ads don't tell the whole story. “I’m the only Republican in the race who has not given money to a Democrat while there was a Republican opponent," he told TAS. "So that’s just a distraction.”
Sullivan, meanwhile, has been attacked for his traditional social views, and those of his supporters. A Tea Party-affiliated group whose leader is openly anti-homosexual has run ads on his behalf, and Winslow argues this could turn off moderate Bay State voters.
“If we win this race,” Winslow said, “we will set the tone and the agenda for 2014 and possibly even 2016, and that is too much of an opportunity to miss. It certainly is too important of an opportunity to blow by not focusing on electability as a consideration.”
But Gomez’s baggage is by far the heaviest. In 2008, he donated money to Barack Obama’s primary campaign. In a January letter to Gov. Deval Patrick seeking an interim appointment to Kerry’s Senate seat, Gomez backed up his credibility on the important debates over immigration and gun control by writing: “I support the positions that President Obama has taken on these issues, and you can be assured that I will keep my word and work on these issues as I have promised.”
He explains these details away. On the check to Obama: “I donated to his primary. It wasn’t in the general election, so, for me it didn’t really matter who won the primary. A friend of mine went to law school with him, and that was it.” On the letter: “All I meant was that I support some of his positions. By no means do I support all or most of his positions at all," Gomez said. "I’m with Marco Rubio on immigration, and on gun control I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment.”
Republicans will choose their nominee tomorrow, but recent polling shows that many voters are still undecided. No word on which candidate Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project prefers, or who makes SarahPAC’s “Palin’s Picks” list.
One thing, however, is for certain: With the special election less than two months away and a Democratic candidate who is sure to be strong (U.S. Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch are vying for the nomination), any GOP primary victory party had better be short lived.