DANVERS — Beneath two glittering chandeliers, nearly 200 of the Republican Party faithful cast ballots Saturday morning in a straw poll for the US Senate race, choosing state Representative Daniel Winslow.
Winslow won 79 votes, compared with 55 for Michael Sullivan, the former US attorney who has been widely seen as a front-runner, and 59 for Gabriel Gomez, a private equity investor from Cohasset.
Organizers said the nonbinding poll, which cost each voter $10 a ballot, was a chance to gin up excitement for the coming campaign and connect candidates with activists.
Politicians used it as an opportunity to shake hands and introduce themselves, although all three downplayed their expectations of winning.
Winslow, the winner, slipped out of the Danversport Yacht Club before the votes — yellow slips of paper cast in a clear plastic storage bin — were tallied, to spend the afternoon campaigning on the North Shore. But before he left, he said in an interview that he thought the event sent the wrong message.
“They gave us three minutes to speak today; three minutes is longer than I ever wanted to spend in a yacht club,” said Winslow, of Norfolk. “I am not a tea-and-crumpets Republican. I am here because there are activists here. I am running a grass-roots campaign.”
Sullivan, of Abington, said that after two intensive weeks of gathering signatures, he had not encouraged his supporters to give up another Saturday.
He said state officials told him on Friday that he had 22,000 certified signatures and he appreciated the efforts that volunteers statewide had made to gather them.
Of the 55 supporters who showed up to vote for him Saturday, he said, “I’m grateful that they are here and grateful that they took some time out.” But, he added, “I wish nobody spent a penny, to be honest with you. I wish people were out doing something important with their families.”
Gomez acknowledged that his campaign was “suffering from a lack of name recognition,” but said he hopes to change that as he tells his personal story about serving as a Navy SEAL and growing up as a first-generation son of immigrant parents, with Spanish as his first language.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’m thrilled and still in a little bit of shock we got that many votes,” Gomez said.
The mood was upbeat in the large ballroom where the straw poll was held.
Angela Davis of Foxborough, who previously chaired a woman’s coalition to support Scott Brown, brought her 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, and said she was enthusiastic about Gomez.
“He represents where the electorate is right now, and he reflects a lot of the priorities I have right now,” she said, citing his military service and his large family.
Polina DeSantis of Lynn said she had helped gather hundreds of signatures for Winslow and had helped organize a group of about 25 people, including minorities and people with disabilities, who had been interested in attending. What kept them away, she said, was the $10 cost for voting, which organizers said would be used to cover the cost of renting the function hall.
DeSantis, who runs a social services organization aimed at aiding victims of domestic abuse, said she supported Winslow because she thought he would help change the face of the Republican Party.
“I stand here and am looking at a sea of [faces with] very little minorities,” DeSantis said.
Events began with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a singing of the national anthem, and then short speeches from the candidates.
Sullivan spoke appreciatively about the efforts of volunteers who gathered signatures and said that the situation in Washington was “broken.”
“I’m excited about the prospects for our party,” Sullivan said.
Gomez said he would support term limits for members of Congress and a law prohibiting former congressmen from becoming lobbyists.
Winslow gave the most rousing speech, describing working his way through college as a carpenter. An air of collegiality pervaded the event.
“I want to say at the outset,” Winslow said, “any one of us is better than either one of them,” referring to the two Democrats, US Representatives Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, who are also running for the US Senate seat vacated by John F. Kerry.Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.