On a brisk afternoon earlier this month, Gabriel Gomez trotted up the stairs of a brown, yellow-trimmed Braintree home and through the back door. Once inside, he planted himself at the head of the family’s wooden dining room table.
The mission for this, his sole campaign stop of the day, was simple: Persuade the four members of the Lear family, who each voted for Stephen F. Lynch in the US Senate special election primary, to support him in the June 25 general election.
Gomez exchanged stories of military days with fellow veteran and family patriarch David Lear, impressed sister-in-law Judy Starr with his vow to reach across the aisle, and sympathized with grandson Dan Regan over the college junior’s apprehension about the current job market.
His half-hour dining-room table summit with the Lears seemed fruitful, but it remains unclear if he will be able to replicate that success with the other 230,000 voters who backed Lynch voters in last month’s primary.
“A lot of Lynch voters are naturally coming over to our side,” Gomez said as he stood on the sidewalk outside of the Lear home, asserting that his vow of bipartisanship will endear him to conservative Democrats. “Lynch’s base will resonate with my story.”
The Republican Senate candidate is expected to make a major effort to court Lynch voters, a slice of the electorate that includes blue-collar union workers, political independents, and conservative Democrats.
Political observers say that stealing traditionally Democratic voters with moderate to conservative leanings from liberal Democrat Edward J. Markey is vital if Gomez is to craft a statewide coalition reminiscent of the one that propelled Republican Scott Brown to the US Senate in 2010.
“Americans are antiparty in their thinking. We don’t like political parties and we are attracted to people who profess antiparty sentiments,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist at Stonehill College, who noted that Gomez’s chances of repeating Brown’s 2010 victory remain slim.
Facing an uphill battle in a state that has seen just five victorious GOP candidates in statewide races since 1978, Gomez must win over the Commonwealth’s independents — who make up 58 percent of registered voters — and Democrats who live in areas where Lynch, the most conservative member of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, performed well in the primary.
Lynch topped Markey’s vote total in four counties: Worcester, Norfolk, Bristol, and Plymouth. In addition to those voters, Gomez will also target the Democratic power base in South Boston, where he was spotted chatting with voters at Mul’s Diner on a recent Friday morning.
While he has yet to earn the backing of any of South Boston’s Democratic powerbrokers, as Brown did when he earned the endorsement of former mayor Ray Flynn, some of the neighborhood’s Lynch voters say they are giving Gomez a look.
Tom Smith, a South Boston resident who is active in local politics and campaigned for Lynch, said Markey has “done a lot of good things” and that he’s still trying to check out Gomez’s policies. But he said he is impressed with Gomez’s service to his country and with his attention to South Boston.
“I was a strong Stephen Lynch supporter,” he said, as he entered the TD Garden for the Boston Bruins’ May 16 playoff game against the New York Rangers. “I’m leaning toward him [Gomez].”
Both general election campaigns have also taken note of Lynch’s strong performances in some central and western parts of the state.
Gomez has stepped up campaigning in communities with large Hispanic populations, such as Springfield, while the state Democratic Party dispatched top officials including John Walsh, state party chairman, to knock on doors in Agawam, Southwick, and other Western Massachusetts communities.
Voters in many of central and western Massachusetts’ working-class neighborhoods identified with Lynch’s past as an iron worker and union leader, an affection not easily transferred to Markey, a longtime congressman and lawyer.
“I just can’t warm up to Ed Markey at all, he’s way too liberal for me,” said Danny DeLollis, 55, an out-of-work teacher from Ayer and self-described conservative Democrat who supported Lynch in the primary.
While he said he’s open to potentially voting for Gomez, he notes that he has seen fewer commercials and advertisements for the Republican candidate and that, at this point, he is more likely to stay home from the polls than to vote for Gomez.
“I supported Steve Lynch because he’s not a career politician. Gabriel Gomez says he’s not either, so there’s a chance I’d support him,” DeLollis said earlier this month, adding: “but I’ve yet to see one good Gabriel Gomez commercial.”
But Democrats are not conceding the Lynch voters, and a recent independent poll on the Senate race suggests that they are right in claiming victory, at least for now, in the battle for conservative Democrats.
Markey campaign officials insist that the core of Lynch’s support — blue-collar union workers concerned about the economy — has begun to fall in line to support their candidate, who has inherited much of Lynch’s volunteer base and who was recently endorsed by the AFL-CIO and Massachusetts Building Trades Council.
“Obviously Steve Lynch comes out of our ranks, he was one of our own,” said Frank Callahan, president of the building trades workers union. “That being said, there wasn’t a lot of difference between Lynch and Markey in terms of their voting records. With Markey and Gomez, there is a clear difference.”
Callahan cited Markey’s votes for the federal prevailing wage and to extend unemployment benefits, saying that while some union workers may be attracted to Gomez’s compelling biography and status as a political newcomer, Markey’s stances represent the best policy fit for blue-collar workers.
“Working families are looking for a candidate who will fight for jobs,” said Andrew Zucker, a Markey campaign spokesman. “We’re going to aggressively contrast Ed’s record of fighting to bolster manufacturing and invest in infrastructure with Gabriel Gomez’s refusal to offer anything but empty platitudes about what he’d do to spur job creation in Massachusetts.”
Meanwhile, a poll released earlier this month by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Markey extended what had been a 4-point lead two weeks earlier into a 7-point advantage over Gomez.
While an earlier poll by the company showed Gomez with as much as 21 percent support among Massachusetts Democrats, Thursday’s poll showed that slipping to 12 percent.
“That suggests that voters who supported Stephen Lynch in the primary election are starting to unify more around Markey now,” said Tom Jensen, the polling firm’s director.
And even if Lynch voters were flooding into Gomez’s camp, Ubertaccio said, the Republican candidate would still face a deck stacked against him.
“Stephen Lynch voters aren’t enough to carry you, and many of them are going to vote Democratic in the election no matter who the Republican is,” he said.
Gomez, for his part, is hoping that his populist calls for congressional term limits and a balanced budget amendment will be enough to sway Massachusetts voters.
“I always vote the person, not the party. I voted for Scott Brown,” declared Starr, as the Braintree family concluded the dining-room table conversation with Gomez, who vowed to spend no more than two full terms in the Senate if elected. Markey, on the other hand, has been in Congress since 1976.
“I think that 35 years in Congress is enough,” David Lear told Gomez as he stood from the table and extended his hand for a parting handshake.
“Well, maybe we’ll make him go get a real job,” the candidate replied with an eager smile.