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, whose only previous political experience was an unsuccesful run for selectman in his hometown of Cohasset, 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 at the Red Lion Inn in Cohasset, Gomez declared that he was not a rigid partisan.
“If you are looking for someone who refuses to work with the other party, I’m not your guy. … If you are looking for an independent voice, a new kind of Republican, take a look at our campaign. I’d welcome your support,’’ he said.
He promised to “approach this job with a military man’s discipline, a father’s sensitivity, and a businessman’s experience.’’
Markey, in his speech at the Omni Parker House in Boston, said he had a “track record of bipartisanship that gets results.’’
But he also declared, “This campaign is about standing up to the special interests and the extreme Tea Party Republicans who want to stop progress and send our country in the wrong direction.’’
Recalling his humble roots and his father’s work as a milkman, Markey said, “He got up and delivered the goods. And in the United States Senate, I am going to deliver results.’’
Gomez garnered 93,632, or 51 percent of the votes, compared with 66,164 votes, or 36 percent, for former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and 24,057, or 13 percent, for state Representative Daniel B. Winslow, with 99 percent of precincts reporting shortly before 11:30 p.m.
Markey received 306,680, or 58 percent of the votes, compared with 226,253 votes, or 42 percent, for his opponent, US Representative Stephen F. Lynch.
Former Governor Michael Dukakis, wearing a leather jacket, was standing next to his wife, Kitty, in the Omni Parker ballroom when Markey’s victory was announced. “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.’’
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, poll worker Beverly DiCato 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 has 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 was the 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.
Lynch thanked supporters at a party at Moseley’s on the Charles, a century-old function hall on the Dedham-West Roxbury border.
“You have all worked so hard, and Margaret and I are enormously grateful,’’ he said, joined by his wife on stage before a “Common Man. Uncommon Leader’’ banner. “Because of you, we almost did it! And no one gave us a shot at this. … Although we didn’t get the outcome we hoped for, we did stand up for working men and women throughout this state.’’
Sullivan told a crowd of supporters in Abington, “We made it tough for [Gomez], but unfortunately, we just didn’t get enough votes.’’ He encouraged everyone in the room to throw their support behind Gomez. “The party will be a better party as a result of having three candidates running this race,’’ he said.
Winslow gave a brief speech at his headquarters in Boston calling Markey “the weakest candidate that the Democratic machine has nominated for the US Senate in living history.’’
“I’ve gotten to know Gabriel Gomez over these last months, and I can tell you one thing for sure: He’s not a career politician, but he sure as hell can beat one,’’ he said.
Kerry’s seat opened up when President Obama picked Kerry in December to be the country’s 68th secretary of state. 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.