Three more high-profile Republicans announced in rapid succession Monday that they will not be candidates in the special US Senate election, leaving the GOP with the prospect of fielding a relative unknown in what the party had hoped would be a pitched battle for John F. Kerry’s former seat.
Just three years after Republicans triumphed in Scott Brown’s unlikely victory to replace the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the only GOP candidate actively exploring a campaign is Gabriel E. Gomez, a 47-year old Cohasset businessman whose only electoral experience is a failed bid for town selectman.
State Representative Daniel B. Winslow, Republican of Norfolk, who has emerged as a strong voice in the Legislature, is also attracting attention. Winslow is expected to announce his candidacy Tuesday, according to a Republican official.
In fast moving developments since Brown announced Friday that he would not run, several prominent GOP personalities — including former governor William F. Weld, former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, former Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, and Mitt Romney’s son Tagg — announced they would not run in the special election.
Brown, who remains very popular in the state, had been widely expected to run for the Senate again after losing to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in November.
Now, the only Republican who has openly acknowledged interest in the seat is Gomez, a venture capitalist who has been quietly moving around party leadership circles in recent weeks telling GOP movers and shakers he is seriously thinking of running.
Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and fighter pilot, is scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C., Tuesday with officials from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Gomez will be accompanied to the meeting by Ron Kaufman, the state party’s national committeeman, who has been involved in the GOP’s scramble to find a credible candidate.
Much speculation also circulated Monday around Winslow, an outspoken and ambitious state representative who previously served as chief counsel to Governor Mitt Romney and as a district court judge.
Late Monday, Winslow, who is just beginning his second term as a legislator, said he would issue a press release Tuesday to announce his intentions.
The fight for the Democratic nomination is shaping up as a battle between US Representatives Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston and Edward J. Markey of Malden, who will face off in an April 30 primary.
The prospect that either Gomez or Winslow would get into the race has been the only good news for the GOP leaders and operatives since Brown stunned the party Friday with his announcement that he would not seek to regain a seat in the US Senate.
“I am feeling better than four days ago,’’ said Todd Domke, a Republican political consultant. “I think we are in better shape than people realize because we may well have two very solid candidates.’’
Domke said the GOP should also welcome a party primary if both run. He said the race would boost the public’s awareness of the candidates.
He also downplayed the importance of having familiar names in the race, adding that both Winslow and Gomez can represent a new generation for the Republicans.
“It’s good to have new blood and potentially new stars in the GOP firmament,’’ he said. “Nationally the party suffered from constantly having a Bush or Nixon on the ticket for five straight decades. In recent years it started to feel like that in the Massachusetts GOP with Romney and Brown.’’
His view was backed up by Nate Little, the state party’s executive director.
“There is an opportunity . . . for a new person to burst onto the scene and pull off an expected victory, much like what Brown did in 2010,’’ he said.
Winslow, who is also said to be considering a run for governor next year, has cut out a role for himself as a creative free-thinker on Beacon Hill, setting him off from many of his Republican colleagues in the House.
Gomez, the son of Colombian immigrants, has made a good impression with some of the party leaders he has met with over the past few weeks.
“I was very impressed with Gabriel Gomez,’’ said former governor Paul Cellucci, who believes Gomez would provide a strong voice for bipartisan cooperation in Washington. “He really carries himself with grace and dignity. He has stature and is very impressive.’’
Cellucci added that Gomez had a compelling life story, pointing to his parents’ roots and his rise through the Naval Academy and Harvard Business School.
But his support of Obama in 2008 and his donations to other Democrats, including $1,000 to liberal Alan Khazei for the US Senate in 2009, could hurt him in a GOP primary fight.
He has also donated to Republicans, including $2,500 to Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign
His involvement with a conservative political action committee last year that was sharply critical of Obama’s treatment of the military could also prove embarrassing. The group, OPSEC, argued that Obama was politicizing sensitive national security information after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The group aired an attack ad that featured a former SEAL, Ben Smith, an outspoken critic of Obama, who has said the president is a socialist who was not born in America. Others associated with OPSEC also held similar opinions.
Gomez did not return a call Monday seeking comment about his candidacy.
Meanwhile, another controversial figure from recent GOP races, Jack E. Robinson, took out nomination papers to run for the Senate as an independent.
He has run twice before for statewide office, once against Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 2000 and for secretary of state in 2002.
On the Democratic side Monday, Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, who had said over the weekend he was exploring a run, announced he would not be entering the race.