For political insiders, the question is this: How did newcomer Gabriel E. Gomez snatch the US Senate nomination from two Republican rivals with longstanding local ties.
Was it the fresh face? The life story as a Navy SEAL? Had he assembled a vast organization of volunteers?
While Gomez’s profile might be new, political analysts said, his main advantage was as old as politics: Money.
In a low-turnout, short-lived special election in which voters were distracted by more urgent news of the bombing in Boston, Gomez had a financial edge that empowered him to distinguish himself from his cohorts and capitalize on his unique biography.
A private equity investor who lives in Cohasset, Gomez injected $900,000 of his own money into a campaign that spent about $1.5 million — a sum that dwarfed his competitors’ efforts.
“What the money bought him was a way to start to introduce himself through television advertising,” said Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Martin Institute at Stonehill College.
Democratic political consultant Mary Anne Marsh contrasted his visibility to the invisibility of perceived frontrunner Michael J. Sullivan. The former federal prosecutor and state lawmaker sent mailers and did frequent interviews but did not run television advertisements.
“How anyone thinks they can get elected to anything these days, let alone US Senate, [without television advertising] is ridiculous,” Marsh said. “Gone is the day that you can live off of old name recognition.”
Sullivan campaign manager Paul Moore said his campaign did not have the money to advertise on television and instead ran radio ads for four days. In total, Moore estimated his campaign only spent about $350,000, less than a quarter of Gomez's tab, though a third-party group, the Conservative Campaign Committee, was separately advertising on Sullivan’s behalf.
With a limited budget, Moore said, Sullivan’s team focused on hardcore primary voters: the Republicans who were known to have shown up for primary elections.
But a day after the loss, Moore said he considered that a miscalculation, concluding that the most consistent Republican voters must have been frustrated and stayed home. A broader base of voters turned out for Gomez, the new guy.
“It is a different era and if someone has money, they can do pretty well. And Gabriel’s got a decent story so it’s not just the money,’’ said Moore. “But money sure played a heck of a part in this.”
The ads that Gomez ran further distinguished him from his competitors because they focused on his unique life story. A son of Latino immigrants, Gomez became a military pilot and a Navy SEAL, then went to Harvard Business School and became a private equity investor.
“Biography can carry you. If you’ve got some serious money behind you, it can carry you a long way,” said Ubertaccio.
Gomez won with 51 percent of the vote. Sullivan won a swath of the South Shore communities near his Abington base, which helped him capture 36 percent of the vote, while a third challenger, state Representative Daniel B. Winslow, claimed little more than his hometown of Norfolk and just 13 percent of the overall vote.
Activists had drafted Sullivan to get into the race, then flocked to his signature-gathering effort to get him on the ballot. A well-liked former prosecutor and onetime George W. Bush appointee to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Sullivan attracted conservatives for his stances on such social issues as abortion and gay marriage, while his longstanding ties to Republican elected officials brought him credibility with the establishment.
But excitement dissipated as the weeks passed. The campaign dropped some early supporters from the staff, in favor of more established operatives, creating internal disorganization, campaign staffers and supporters said.
By April 10, the most recent date campaign finance documents were due, Sullivan had raised less than $175,000.
“Mike’s an old-fashioned politician and 20 years ago, you could have done it with a basic grass-roots effort,” said Moore.
Likewise, by that time, Winslow had raised slightly less than $400,000. He ultimately spent about $465,000, his spokesman said.
Gomez had far outraised the two, collecting $582,249 — in addition to personally loaning his campaign another $600,100, his campaign finance report showed. Spokesman Will Ritter said that by the end of the truncated primary, Gomez had loaned the campaign about $900,000 and the campaign had spent $1.5 million.
Certainly, Gomez had a scintillating profile, and his remarkable life story brought him instant credibility with voters despite his inexperience in politics and his many halting, awkward moments on the stump.
“If he were just, say an investment banker and had this awkward personality on screen, it could be problematic. There’s something to this idea that he’s got this awkward public personality but he’s a Navy SEAL. He could break me in half,’’ said Ubertaccio. “Once people come to know that, they look at somebody differently.”
Republicans have seized upon Gomez’s inexperience — his very lack of slickness — as a virtue in the general election.
“I think that’s an advantage he has,” Massachusetts Republican Party chair Kirsten Hughes said at Gomez’s victory party Tuesday night. “People are tired of the same old same old D.C. insiders who give the old standard book and line. What Gabriel offers is a fresh face and a voice of the people, someone who hasn’t been in D.C. and insulated for 37 years, and I think that’s going to resonate with people.”
Add Gomez’s Latino heritage and he represents exactly the kind of candidate the Republican Party has been seeking nationally, noted Massachusetts Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman.
“He came kind of out of nowhere and he’s a fresh face for the Republican Party,” said supporter Janet Leombruno.
“There’s not many people like him,” said one of his friends and supporters, Ryan Nagle. “That’s what’s really exciting, especially to young people on the campaign. Gabriel is that kind of hope for people. He’s someone to get excited about.”