WORCESTER – When it comes to politically potent outerwear, a flight jacket absolutely slays a barn coat. But can it turn an election?
On Wednesday afternoon, a few men waited for Gabriel Gomez to arrive at a barber shop tucked into the back of a squat brick building in downtown Worcester.
“We need a fresh voice,” said Anthony Paravano, the suspender-wearing, 71-year-old owner. “Gomez can bring our concerns to Washington. He’s a businessman; he knows what it’s like.” Paravano did allow that making millions in private equity isn’t quite the same as making a living with short backs and sides.
Paravano hadn’t met Gomez before, but he trusts him to do the right thing in Washington. Not because he’s a Republican, but because he’s a Navy SEAL. “It’s about character,” he said. “It sets him apart.”
“He has courage and guts and determination,” added Jeffrey Burkle, who hung around after a trim to see this candidate.
Former senator Scott Brown’s barn jacket said, “I’m a regular guy.” Gomez’s flight jacket says much more: “I’ve done something so difficult most can only dream of it. My guys killed bin Laden. My character is beyond question.”
The Republican’s career as a US Navy SEAL is central not only to his character, but to his campaign. It makes this political unknown instantly knowable. That flight jacket saves Gomez months of campaigning.
Sometimes, though, you have to wonder if there is anything beyond it, whether this politically blank slate of a candidate is, well, blank. There was that letter to Governor Deval Patrick promising to support a Democratic president he had previously criticized publicly. He has been mystifying on the issue of abortion: In an interview with the Globe’s Stephanie Ebbert – for which he was given the topic a week before — he pleaded ignorance on two controversial Senate amendments that made abortion rights supporters apoplectic. My colleague Scot Lehigh asked how he would help small companies, and Gomez offered vague suggestions that made little sense for Massachusetts.
None of that mattered Wednesday. Gomez arrived, wearing that flight jacket – stained on the back, too warm for the humid afternoon – and the dozen or so friends Paravano had gathered, predisposed to be smitten, were smitten. They shook the candidate’s hand and thanked him for his service. Gomez hit Ed Markey for spending too much time out of state, promised to support immigration reform, talked about his military service, and said this election was about “the future, not the past.”
Until now, I’ve thought of this special Senate race as a lower-wattage version of last year’s donnybrook between Brown and Elizabeth Warren. But give Gomez credit for answering questions, something Brown seemed reluctant to do, and for saying a couple of unpredictable things. He hews to Republican orthodoxy in some ways, ignoring the consequences of the tax cuts for which he calls. But he is also open to closing the carried interest loophole, which taxes the incomes of equity investors like him at criminally low rates.
“You’ve got to be willing to look at the other side . . . and for everything to be on the table,” he said Wednesday.
The guys in the barbershop were skeptical that anybody could break through the partisanship in D.C. A couple of them, like Wayne Anish, hold positions opposed to those of the candidate they’d come to see. And yet they were willing to give Gomez a shot and not just because he’s the un-Markey.
“He’s a breath of fresh air,” Anish said. “He’s not going to change everything, but it’s a start.”
A little flight jacket goes a long way.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.