QUINCY — US Senate candidate Gabriel E. Gomez made his political debut Thursday, introducing himself to voters as a “new kind of Republican” and making his first public appearances on the campaign trail in Quincy, Shrewsbury, and Springfield.
A son of Colombian immigrants, Gomez became a Navy SEAL, graduated from Harvard Business School, and went on to be a private equity investor.
Visibly nervous but affable as he delivered his first remarks of the campaign Thursday, Gomez said he will try to transcend political labels.
“Obviously, I’m running as a Republican, but I’m a new kind of Republican,” Gomez said. “I’m an independent thinker. I’m not interested in going down to D.C. to engage in trench warfare.”
In some ways, his approach mirrors that of former US senator Scott Brown, a Republican who wrapped himself in the “people over party” slogan as he tried to win over independent voters in predominantly Democratic Massachusetts.
Rather than being pigeonholed as a conservative, a liberal, or a moderate, Gomez said Thursday that he prefers to think of himself as a Navy man, a businessman, a father, and a husband.
Until Thursday, Gomez had been the great unknown in the race to replace John F. Kerry in the Senate. A first-time statewide candidate who had run just one unsuccessful campaign for selectman a decade ago, Gomez had stayed out of the public eye for weeks, only introducing himself to voters through online videos that focused heavily on his life story.
On Thursday, the Cohasset father of four was introduced at the American Legion in Quincy by by his eldest child, 13-year-old Olivia, and began his remarks by introducing himself in Spanish, his first language.
Afterward, he fielded his first questions from reporters, revealing some policy positions.
He said he opposes abortion but accepts that the law has been settled on abortion rights. He supports same-sex marriage, saying he opposes discrimination of any kind. “I think that if two people are in love, they should be able to get married,” he said .
On gun control, he called for universal background checks, even at gun shows, and for consistent mental health reporting to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
“I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment; however, I’ve got four kids,” he said, pointing to the December shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut. “That Newtown massacre was just — it was more than I could take. It’s more than anybody should have to take. There has to be [a] common-sense approach.”
Gomez also called for members of Congress to face term limits, as well as a lifetime ban on members becoming lobbyists. Political leaders in Washington, D.C., he said, should see their own salaries frozen until they find a solution to sequestration, the automatic spending cuts that could be triggered beginning Friday.
At times, Gomez seemed nervous — his hand shook as he fielded questions from the media — and he paused a few beats when asked to name Democrats in Congress he admires.
In his speech, Gomez addressed his inexperience head-on and sought to use it as a selling point. Noting that many people complained that they had never heard of him and that he had not been active in politics, he said: “Guilty. As. Charged. It’s true. I’m not a politician. I don’t know the political lingo, and I don’t want to learn the political lingo.”
Yet the political newcomer was being carefully managed by at least a half-dozen handlers who tightly orchestrated the day’s events and lined up brief interviews with individual news organizations before ushering the candidate to the next event.
The crowd at his first appearance of the day in Quincy was small for a kickoff event. About three dozen people, not all of them committed to Gomez, showed up, roughly matching the crowd of reporters and political consultants on hand.
“I thought he did very well. He seemed a little nervous, but other than that. . . ,” said Joe Boike, an Arlington Republican who served in the Marines and was excited to see a fellow serviceman launch a campaign. “A lot of politicians are full of it. I just have a lot of faith in Gabe.”
Gomez is now one of three candidates running in the Republican primary, along with state Representative Daniel B. Winslow of Norfolk and former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan.
Gomez was the first to consider a candidacy in early February when Brown, the anticipated front-runner, bowed out. Gomez’s willingness and his remarkable biography made him an attractive candidate to the Massachusetts Republican establishment, and the state’s national committeemen, Ron Kaufman and former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, helped introduce Gomez to the state’s political scene.
“He personifies the American dream,” said Healey, who joined Gomez in Quincy. “I’m excited to have someone with his expertise and his point of view wanting to become a standard-bearer for his party.”
But he will face a difficult primary against Winslow, who has worked as a judge and as a lawyer for the Romney administration, and Sullivan who has longstanding relationships with party elders including Kaufman. Sullivan is also expected to gain conservative support as an opponent of both abortion and gay marriage.
On the Democratic side, the candidates are US Representative Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston and US Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden.