Three years ago, Massachusetts Republicans thought they were on the forefront of a movement. Scott Brown’s surprising Senate victory brought a wave of promise to the beleaguered GOP in a deep-blue state.
But Republican Gabriel E. Gomez’s dispiriting loss to Representative Edward J. Markey in Tuesday’s Senate race tamped down those hopes, leading some state Republicans to suggest that it might be time to rethink their brand before the next campaign cycle heats up.
“If we’re going to have real competition for office in this state, we probably need more independent candidates,” said Todd Domke, a Republican strategist. “Because Republicans looking at this result are discouraged. This was not some anomaly. This has been going on for decades.”
The decisive loss for Gomez, a promising contender whose candidacy failed to catch fire statewide, is being blamed on many factors. Ill-timed for the new glow of summer, the special election to replace John F. Kerry generated little heat of its own. Though Gomez, a former US Navy SEAL, was an intriguing political figure, he could hardly compete with a Democratic machine still smarting from its loss to Brown in 2010 and determined to prevent a repeat.
“He was a first-time candidate,’’ said Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. “To get as far as he did against a 37-year entrenched Democrat in Massachusetts speaks highly of him and of the message.”
But that does not offer much encouragement as the GOP tries to gird itself for an upcoming special election to replace Markey this fall and a gubernatorial race in 2014.
Republicans had already suffered the pains of a trio of losses in the years since Brown’s surprise win. In November 2010, Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, won reelection over Republican Charles D. Baker Jr. by 6 points.
Last November, Brown lost reelection to Democrat newcomer Elizabeth Warren by nearly 8 percent. And Richard R. Tisei, a former state senator who had lost on the ticket with Baker in 2010, narrowly lost his bid to oust US Representative John F. Tierney.
“To be a Republican in Massachusetts, you need a lot of perseverance, intestinal fortitude, and optimism,” Tisei said in an interview yesterday. “Every now and again, we do have a good election cycle. It’s been a while since we have.”
These days, Brown’s win is described as catching “lightning in a bottle” as he rode the backlash against President Obama’s health care plan and reaped support from the surging Tea Party movement. Gomez’s defeat stamped out any remaining sparks.
“Terrible. I thought it’d be a little closer,” a disgusted campaign volunteer, Denny Drewry, said after Gomez’s concession speech on election night. “There’s not much hope in this state, quite frankly.”
Republicans make up just 11 percent of Massachusetts voters. Democrats make up 35.7 percent of the voters, while the bulk are unenrolled voters.
Given the party enrollment margin, Domke questioned Gomez’s effort to distinguish himself from his party by repeatedly calling himself a “new kind of Republican.”
“It was a self-defeating message because [roughly] 88 percent of the electorate is not Republican,” Domke said.
And with little break, Republicans are going to have to gin up their ranks again, as the state’s election cycle kicks in again. The special election is now being scheduled to replace Markey in Congress, and however discouraged they may be this week, Republicans must field candidates for several seats next year, including gubernatorial and congressional offices.
Baker is expected to wage another run for governor, Tisei another run for Tierney’s seat. Brown is the wild card, his intentions remaining unclear.
Republicans are looking to the three as party leaders, despite their recent losses. On Tuesday, Gomez’s name was added to the list of future GOP contenders.
Tisei compared Gomez’s positioning to that of Joe Malone, who lost an ambitious challenge to US Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 1988 but waged a successful campaign for state treasurer two years later.
“There’s enough upheaval going on in Massachusetts right now that there will be a lot of different things for him to choose from if he wants to run again,” said Tisei, who said he was not ready to announce his own political intentions.
Gomez campaign adviser Lenny Alcivar said Gomez is not yet contemplating his political options and is going to spend some time with his family.
“By all accounts, Gabriel ran a strong, honest, and credible campaign as a first-time candidate in one of the toughest political environments imaginable,” Alcivar said. “But the reality is, there will be many more tomorrows for Gabriel Gomez.”
At Gomez’s election night party, dejected supporters were already hinting that he should challenge Markey to a rematch at the end of the short term.
“I’d love to see Gomez run in 17 months against Ed Markey,” said Keith McGrath, a Milford Republican. “We’ll work just as hard.”
But other Republicans took little consolation.
“They’re celebrating a loss; I want to win,” said Steve Aylward, a conservative member of the Republican state committee. “This was really a lost opportunity and something that doesn’t come around too often. We weren’t able to get our vote out.”