You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Gabriel Gomez’s identity problem

Gabriel Gomez will call them as he sees them.

But how he sees them is still hard to explain. That makes it hard to figure what the Republican candidate for US Senate would do in Washington and why Massachusetts should send him there.

Continue reading below

“I’m not in love with the idea of being a senator . . . I want to go down there and serve,” said Gomez during an interview yesterday at the Globe.

Humility has its appeal. A businessman, former Navy SEAL, and first-time candidate, Gomez is telling voters he’s not a career politician and won’t become one. He will only serve two terms, he promises. In contrast, Gomez portrays Representative Edward Markey, his Democratic opponent, as a creature of Washington. Given Markey’s nearly 40-year tenure in Congress, he isn’t wrong.

His problem: Massachusetts voters like creatures of Washington, especially if they are incumbent Democrats.

As recent political history shows, Bay Staters elect new representatives only when forced — in the case of death (Ted Kennedy), ascension to a White House cabinet position (John Kerry), or voluntary retirement (Barney Frank). Last November, Republican challenger Richard Tisei believed US Representative John Tierney was vulnerable because of a gambling ring scandal that involved Tierney’s wife and brother-in-law. Yet Tierney was reelected, because voters cared more about where he stood on issues.

It’s true Republican Scott Brown upset the natural order when he won a special election in 2010 to fill Kennedy’s seat. But Brown’s ability to sell himself as a “Scott Brown Republican” with a claim to “the people’s seat” represented one rare moment in time. There’s little evidence a similar moment is brewing. Once Brown got to Washington he was caught in an identity trap. Was he going to vote with his party or with his constituents?

During their 2012 showdown, Democrat Elizabeth Warren skillfully connected Brown to the national Republican agenda. A vote for Brown was a vote for Republican control of the Senate, she said. She criticized him for signing a no-taxes pledge, and put an ideological spotlight on his stance against President Obama’s jobs bill; against equal pay for women; and against mandated insurance coverage for birth control.

Markey is following the same template. He’s hammering Gomez on his opposition to Obamacare and an assault weapons ban, and tying him to the national GOP agenda on tax breaks for the rich and resistance to all Obama initiatives.

In response, Gomez insists that he’s nonpartisan and bipartisan, will talk to anyone and everyone in Washington, and won’t be part of any specific voting bloc. The result is a confusing blur of statements and positions that make it difficult to understand who Gomez is and where he stands. Some of the confusion lies in Gomez’s effort to dodge labels; but some of it also sounds like an unfamiliarity with issues.

While Gomez calls himself personally pro-life, he also said he doesn’t believe in litmus tests for judges; he could vote for a pro-choice or pro-life Supreme Court justice. He doesn’t believe in “preconditions” for deficit reduction plans, and would throw “everything in the bucket” for discussion — including elimination of the home mortgage interest deduction.

He believes the government has a role in regulating business — just don’t press him on what it is. He’s against the Wall Street bailout, but, surely, a Harvard Business School graduate should be able to explain his reservations beyond saying, “We can’t be bailing out banks that are too big to fail.” He’s environmentally “green,” but also supports the Keystone pipeline. Gomez welcomed to Massachusetts on Wednesday, even though the president was leading a Markey rally.

The confusion over the true Gomez identity began with the letter he wrote to Governor Deval Patrick, asking to be appointed interim senator and saying that he supported the Obama agenda. When Patrick took a pass, Gomez ran for Senate and won a three-way primary.

From the start, he counted on narrative to make his case — military man, businessman, family man, and Spanish-speaking man. It has curb appeal, but lacks a strong foundation.

It also overlooks the main reason why Massachusetts voters return Democrats to Washington. They know how they will vote.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week