Will he be the next Scott Brown?
Gabriel E. Gomez, a 47-year-old son of immigrants who became a Navy pilot and SEAL before becoming a private equity investor, won the Republican nomination tonight for the US Senate special election to replace John F. Kerry, bringing a fresh face to a race that had drawn scant interest from an electorate distracted by the Boston Marathon bombings.
Meanwhile, veteran US Representative Edward J. Markey beat fellow Representative Stephen F. Lynch in the race for the Democratic nod in the traditionally blue state.
Gomez garnered 81,201, or 51 percent of the votes, compared with 58,259 votes, or 36 percent, for former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and 20,253, or 13 percent, for state Representative Daniel B. Winslow, with 90 percent of precincts reporting.
Markey received 273,108, or 58 percent of the votes, compared with 201,021 votes, or 42 percent, for his opponent, US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, with 90 percent of precincts reporting.
Gomez, whose only previous political experience was an unsuccesful run for selectmen in his hometown, will face off with Markey in the final election on June 25.
In a victory speech delivered this evening at his campaign’s election night party in Cohasset, Gomez declared that he was not a rigid partisan and wouldn’t take orders from party leaders.
“If you are looking for a person that will reach across party lines .... I’d be honored to have your support,” he said in prepared remarks. “If you are looking for an independent voice, a completely new kind of Republican, take a look at our campaign. I’d be honored to have your support.”
Applause and cheers broke out in the ballroom at the Omni Parker House where Markey’s campaign was holding its election night party as a TV station announced Markey was the winner. Former Governor Michael Dukakis, wearing a leather jacket, was standing next to his wife, Kitty, in the ballroom. “Now the fun begins,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a very tough next seven weeks and we gotta take it very seriously,” he said. “I hope and expect [Markey] is gonna win, but we can’t take anything for granted. That’s particularly true with these special elections as we have learned a number of times. So it’s gonna be intensive. House to house. Street to street. Precinct to precinct.”
Markey also issued a statement thanking his Democratic opponent, saying, “If all of us were a little bit more like Steve Lynch, this state and this country would be a better place.”
The primary election had difficulty gaining momentum from the outset and the Boston Marathon bombings two weeks ago distracted the electorate in the home stretch. Low turnout was reported today, despite sunny skies and temperatures rising into the 70s in some areas.
In Scituate, Town Clerk Kathleen Curran summed up the lack of excitement at many polling places. “This is dead,” she said. “It’s like watching grass grow.”
In Malden, Beverly DiCato, a poll worker, expressed frustration that more voters had not shown up. “People say that it’s important to them,” she said. “That’s what makes me mad. They say that, but where are they?”
Even before the Marathon bombings, some observers suggested that Bay State voters were suffering from election fatigue, despite the state’s reputation for its love of politics. The state has already seen several hard-fought elections in the past three years, including Republican Scott Brown’s stunning upset win in a special election for US Senate in 2010 and his losing battle against Elizabeth Warren in 2012 to hold onto that seat.
The popular Brown’s decision not to plunge back into a run for the special election for Kerry’s seat also took some of the zing out of the race.
“I think everybody is so exhausted. We’re just over-campaigned,” said Jane Cooper Brayton, 77, an artist, who cast her ballot today at Cathedral High School on Washington Street in the South End.
Markey, 66, of Malden is a long-time liberal with 36 years in the House. He is considered a Washington insider and experienced dealmaker who steadily pursues his goals. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said he was one of the “disrupters” when he first arrived in Congress but now knows “how to get the job done.”
Gomez, a Cohasset resident, has trumpeted his outsider status and said he wants to “reboot” Congress with a pay freeze, term limits, and a lifetime ban on lobbying. A social moderate and fiscal conservative, he has a compelling personal story as the son of Colombian immigrants who grew up to be a Navy pilot and SEAL and went to Harvard Business School before going into business.
Gomez’s only previous political experience had been a run for selectman in Cohasset, in which he came in third out of three candidates.
While he’s likely to face an uphill battle in traditionally Democratic Massachusetts, so did Brown, who was a little-known state lawmaker from Wrentham when he beat Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the January 2010 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of long-time liberal senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Kerry was the state’s other long-time senator, first elected in 1984. His seat opened up when President Obama picked Kerry to be the country’s 68th secretary of state in December. Kerry was sworn in on Feb. 1. The seat is currently being temporarily occupied by William “Mo” Cowan, who was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick.
Michael Rezendes, Josh Miller, Meghan Irons and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Jarret Bencks, Jessica Bartlett, Johanna Kaiser, Patrick D. Rosso, Jeremy Fox and Deirdre Fernandes contributed to this report.