US Senate hopeful Gabriel E. Gomez may be a fresh face to the Massachusetts Republican Party, but the former Navy Seal was briefly the face of a controversial group that criticized President Obama for politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Made up of former Navy SEALs and intelligence officers, the group, known as the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, expressed concern that national security was being compromised by a spate of intelligence leaks. The focus of the organization’s campaign was a 22-minute video released three months before the election that slammed Obama for exploiting the killing of bin Laden and endangering troops for political purposes.
Democrats called it a parallel of the 2004 election in which a group of veterans launched a campaign questioning the war heroism of Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, turning a perceived strength into a potential liability. OPSEC, they said, was trying to “Swift Boat” the president.
A nonprofit that was not required to name its individual donors, OPSEC spent nearly half a million dollars on “electioneering” advocacy against Obama’s reelection, according to the website opensecrets.org.
Gomez did not donate any money to the cause and only handled “two or three interviews as a favor to the organization,” said his campaign’s senior adviser, Leonardo Alcivar.
In an opinion piece on the website Wicked Local Cohasset several months before the OPSEC video was released, Gomez directly accused the president of politicizing the raid.
“It’s a dangerous game, where the president and his top aides are treating the SEAL Teams and their military code like a ‘game move’ for his reelection,” he said.
Gomez, who previously ran unsuccessfully for Cohasset selectman, this week joined the race for the US Senate seat recently vacated by Kerry, now US Secretary of State. He will face two fellow Republicans: former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan and state Representative Daniel B. Winslow of Norfolk.
On the Democratic side, US Representatives Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston and Edward J. Markey of Malden are vying for the nomination.
The son of Colombian immigrants who became a venture capitalist, Gomez has ignited Republican hopes with his American success story, but he is a newcomer whose political stances remain largely unknown.
Though he announced his candidacy online, he has declined to speak with the public until the end of the month, worrying some Republicans that he may not be ready for a the rigors of a grueling Senate campaign.
But as his campaign sought to clarify Gomez’s role with OPSEC, an interview he did in August after the release of the video seemed to further complicate matters. Gomez appeared on the left-leaning network MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” on behalf of OPSEC, but quickly backed off from the group’s most inflammatory positions.
He began the debate by agreeing with the host that the president deserves “full credit” for ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
But OPSEC had been arguing just the opposite, that Obama had been taking too much credit.
The guest he was debating that day, Jon Soltz of the organization VoteVets.org, recalled Friday that Gomez seemed “unprepared for a national TV interview.”
“It was almost like he was being used to support an agenda that he didn’t even agree with,” Soltz said.
Gomez went on to criticize Obama for too often mentioning himself in the aftermath of bin Laden’s killing, but was drowned out by criticism from Soltz and the host.
He did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
The debate was so skewed that the guest host invited Gomez a few days later, for a more convivial chat on his radio show.
In that exchange, Gomez elaborated on his beliefs that while the president deserves credit for killing Osama bin Laden, a series of national security leaks during his administration could compromise the safety of the military and intelligence people in the field.
“These intelligence leaks need to be stopped,” Gomez said, noting that Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, had expressed similar concerns.
But he also did not disassociate himself from the views of a self-professed “birther” — those who question the validity of the president’s birth certificate — in the OPSEC group. When the host asked him how deeply that sentiment runs among OPSEC members, Gomez demurred, calling it a “diverse group.”
“I don’t know how deeply shared that view is,” Gomez said. “Everybody can think for themselves and have their own view on that specific topic.”
Asked why Gomez did not take the opportunity to clarify his position, Alcivar, his spokesman, said: “He’s not a politician. He’s not motivated by political needs unlike most or all of his opponents in this race. And his word stands . . . Gomez has a former Navy Seal’s belief that we can’t tolerate national security leaks that jeopardize the lives of men and women serving in harm’s way.”
Gomez, who has supported both Republicans and Democrats, also said on MSNBC that OPSEC was not political and that he had contributed to Obama’s first campaign.
Asked if Gomez regrets his involvement now that he is a candidate, Alcivar said, “There is nothing to regret when you’re standing up for the security of the men and women who serve and put themselves in harm’s way.”