When Gabriel Gomez won the April 30 Republican primary for US Senate, he became the first Latino ever to win a statewide primary in Massachusetts. The day after the primary, one national Republican strategist told the Globe that Gomez “could emerge as a sort of marquee Hispanic candidate,” while another said, “you’re hitting all sevens in the slot machine once again.”
Make no mistake, Gomez's background and family history should have instant national appeal with those Republicans who are working hard to solve the party's "Latino problem," one that hit a national low last November when Mitt Romney could only garner around 28 percent of the US Latino vote, and one that continues to linger with this week's decision by Pablo Pantoja, a former Florida RNC Latino Outreach coordinator, to switch parties and become a Democrat. You would think that a chance to elect a second-generation Colombian-American Navy SEAL who worked hard to become a successful businessman would be enough to get the national GOP to pump more money into the Gomez campaign.
So far, though, the money has yet to show up.
Fox News Latino reported last week that Gomez is not getting the national attention from prominent Republican donors who were quick to support Scott Brown last year. Even the Tea Party is backing off from Gomez. Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, told Fox News Latino, "We are not looking at that Senate race at all. We cannot get behind someone that donated to Obama."
Jim Geraghty of National Review Online writes that "Gomez's task will be supremely difficult if he doesn't get significant financial support from national Republicans and conservatives. Right now, national Republican and conservative groups are weighing that decision." That decision could be made easier to make if the IRS and AP scandals hounding the Obama administration continue to gain momentum.
Could it be that Gomez is not conservative enough for national donors? If that's the case, why is the National Republican Senatorial Committee running an ad critical of Gomez's opponent, Ed Markey? Apparently the committee has no problem going after Markey, but you would think it would be propping up Gomez at the same time. Isn't this about winning the race? As Geraghty points out, "If the party wants to do better among Hispanics, why not make a solid effort to elect the third Latino Republican senator, as Gomez is a son of Colombian immigrants?"
It is perplexing, to say the least. After bemoaning for months that the GOP needs to do better in reaching out to US Latino voters, Republicans now have a Latino candidate for the US Senate who made Massachusetts political history, yet they are still waiting on the sidelines. It makes no sense. Will the Republican Party grow up and realize that standing behind Gomez can actually be seen as a good move?
Instead, the narrative for Republicans will continue to be stuck in the past. As Pantoja explained this week about his decision to switch parties, "It doesn't take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others. Look no further; a well-known organization recently confirms the intolerance of that which seems different or strange to them." Pantoja was referring to a much-maligned immigration study by the Heritage Foundation and the controversy it created when one of the report's coauthors, Jason Richwine, resigned, in part over his 2009 doctoral dissertation at Harvard claiming that Latino immigrants had lower IQs than previous waves of immigrants and other groups living in the United States today.
Given Richwine's Heritage debacle, the Latino Republican candidate from Massachusetts is exactly what the GOP needs right now. Turning Gomez's story into a national one would be the smart play. Unfortunately, Republicans can't realize the obvious.
Julio Ricardo Varela lives in the Boston area and is the founder of LatinoRebels.com