State Representative Daniel B. Winslow, a former judge and a one-time aide to Governor Mitt Romney, became the first Republican to take official steps toward entering the US Senate race Tuesday, opening an exploratory committee that allows him to begin raising money and declaring that he is “99 percent” certain he will run.
Winslow, who was Romney’s chief legal counsel, called himself a socially moderate, fiscally responsible Republican who wants to help break Washington gridlock.
“The only way to break the stalemate is to send a Massachusetts Republican, somebody who has a record of working across and reaching across the aisle,” Winslow told reporters outside the State House, where he has served two terms as the state representative from Norfolk. “You don’t lock yourself into the extremes. The truth often is in the middle. And I think there’s an opportunity in Massachusetts for the sensible center.”
Winslow, 54, could be one of two candidates on the Republican side, joining Gabriel E. Gomez, a private equity investor and former Navy SEAL from Cohasset who is meeting with senior GOP officials as he explores a run. Many of the better-known figures in the party, including former senator Scott Brown and former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, have taken themselves out of consideration.
Some Republican activists seeking a more prominent name are hoping Michael J. Sullivan — a former US attorney, one-time Plymouth district attorney, and former state representative — will enter the race. Sullivan did not respond to messages Tuesday.
“I know folks who have and are continuing to talk to him,” said Lisa Barstow, a member of the Republican State Committee. “Clearly, there isn’t a whole lot of time.”
State Senate minority leader Bruce E. Tarr is also considering a run.
To qualify for the April 30 primary ballot, candidates must gather 10,000 certified signatures by Feb. 27. Winslow said he has no doubt he could accomplish that goal, by using paid and volunteer staff. Two US House members, Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch, have declared candidacies on the Democratic side.
Though well known in state Republican circles, Winslow will have to quickly lift his profile among the broader electorate, raise money, and build a credible campaign. Even Brown had a slightly loftier perch when he vaulted into the US Senate as a state senator in the 2010 special election. But Winslow brings a broader resume, having served in all three branches of government.
“All the commentary is there is no big-name Republican now that Scott Brown is out of it, but Scott Brown started out very similarly to Dan Winslow,” said Jason Kauppi, a Republican political consultant. “If anything, I think Dan Winslow brings more experience, having been a judge and chief legal counsel to a governor, as well as a legislator. What he lacks in Scott’s good looks, he makes up for in smarts.”
Winslow also has a knack for generating attention. He recently dropped off vats of Marshmallow Fluff to Governor Deval Patrick’s budget chief to demonstrate what he argued was superfluous spending. And he once held a “Beer Pong and Politics” fund-raiser (though he kept it tame with water instead of beer in the red plastic cups).
A graduate of Tufts University and Boston College Law School, Winslow was appointed to a district court judgeship by Governor William F. Weld in 1995. In 2002, he resigned from the bench to become Romney’s chief lawyer, a post he held until 2005. In 2010, he was elected state representative and was the chief lawyer to Brown’s winning Senate campaign.
A supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, he said his top issues in the Senate would be economic and climate sustainability, immigration, and the deficit. But he refused to state his position on several key points Tuesday, saying he wants to develop more detailed policy positions.
Winslow, who has an A+ rating from the Gun Owners Action League and has been endorsed by the gun rights group, declined to say if he supports a ban on assault weapons. Though he said he is heartened by the recent push to overhaul the immigration system, he would not say if that overhaul should include a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And he would not say whether he would back a repeal of President Obama’s health care law.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party, foreshadowing what would no doubt be a constant line of attack if Winslow enters the race, blasted him Tuesday for his ties to Romney. After working for Romney in the State House, Winslow endorsed his two runs for president.
“Republican Dan Winslow was a member of Mitt Romney’s inner circle who spent last year as one of the former governor’s apologists and political attack dogs,” party chairman John Walsh said in a statement. “Winslow will work just as hard to stop President Obama’s agenda in the Senate as he did to deny him a second term and send Mitt Romney to the White House.”
Winslow dismissed the criticism with a slight tweak at his former boss.
“I wish I had his money,” Winslow said. “The fact is, I’m my own man. I have my own record in this building and in public service. . . . I’m Dan Winslow, and I’m not Mitt Romney.”