The barn coat has been replaced by an olive green bomber jacket.
Gabriel Gomez is picking up where his Republican predecessor, Scott Brown, left off. He wants a campaign about image, not issues.
Gomez wants to frame the special Senate race against Democrat Ed Markey in the simplest of terms: ex-Navy SEAL takes on veteran Washington insider.
Gomez, 47, wants a race about youth, not experience. He wants voters to think about his military career, and all it conjures up — mental discipline and muscle of the biceps variety, as opposed to political ideology and the need for political muscle in highly partisan Washington.
The Gomez pitch has its appeal. Democrats learned that from Brown’s special election victory in 2010. With a pickup truck, a resume that included National Guard service, and sound bites about “the people’s seat,” the barn coat-wearing Brown worked the theme of populist outsider and beat Martha Coakley, a veteran Democrat.
Now Gomez is working a variation of the same strategy, against an opponent who could be an easier target than Coakley.
A popular attorney general, Coakley started off with built-in support from women who wanted to break the glass ceiling in Massachusetts politics and send a female senator to Washington. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Markey.
He has served in Congress since 1976, and the bags under his eyes make him look his age — 66. If anyone needed to be reminded that the Democratic establishment stands with him, the establishment — Coakley included — stood right behind him on primary night.
Markey hasn’t had a real rival in a long time, and can thank Representative Stephen Lynch, his primary opponent, for reminding him what it’s like to debate an issue. When he does it, however, his words tumble out in an odd staccato.
Yes, those are matters of style. And if the focus stays there, Gomez has a shot. If it’s fresh face against old face, he’s a contender. If Massachusetts voters are wowed by a political novice who offers up political platitudes in Spanish and English, he will give Markey a tough fight.
But what Gomez actually stands for, issue by issue, is mysterious. The written record is scant and includes the letter he delivered to Governor Deval Patrick last January. In it, he submitted his name for consideration as the interim replacement for the Senate seat he’s now seeking. He described himself as a moderate Republican, who supported President Obama in 2008. He also said he would support the positions Obama has taken on immigration reform and gun control.
When the letter became public, Gomez backed away from his own words. During the primary, he said he opposes a federal assault weapons ban; on immigration, he said he supports “some kind of pathway to citizenship.” He has also provided few details about his business career in private equity.
The way to beat him seems obvious. Do what Senator Elizabeth Warren did to Brown last November. Tie Mitch McConnell and the national Republican agenda around his neck. Remind Massachusetts voters of Markey’s long-standing commitment to liberal causes. Fire up the women’s vote, by stressing Markey’s abortion rights agenda. In theory, the issues and the numbers work to Markey’s advantage. Only 11 percent of Massachusetts voters are registered Republicans.
Yet as reassuring as all that might be to the Markey campaign, nothing is certain in politics and special elections. There’s good reason for Democrats to worry that Gomez will connect in a way that has nothing to do with progressive issues and everything to do with emotion.
Just think of the dueling images from primary night. Markey, surrounded by the usual suspects, that vast cast of Democratic incumbents and operatives; Gomez, standing with his wife and four children. As promised, Gomez spoke without the polish of a practiced politician, but he still gave listeners something to think about.
In 1976, he said, Gerald Ford was president. Eight-track players were big. The first “Rocky’’ movie debuted. Gomez was playing Little League baseball, and Ed Markey was getting elected to Congress.
And there Markey has stayed for a very long time. Longevity is the heart of the argument against him and sets the stage for an ex-Navy SEAL to take on a veteran Washington insider.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.