By Alexandra Jaffe - 06/05/13 04:00 AM EDT
Massachusetts Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez is facing an unsettling dilemma going into the final stretch of the special election campaign.
Gomez needs the support of big-spending outside GOP groups and donors to win, but those groups and donors are holding back until he proves he can win.
Paul Moore, a Massachusetts Republican strategist who worked for one of Gomez’s primary opponents, said Republicans appear to be waiting to see if he “can catch fire” before committing cash to his cause.
Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and son of Colombian immigrants, is in a tough spot in terms of messaging.
He’s running against both the Democratic Party and, to some extent, the national GOP.
Gomez has long touted himself — and has been touted by the national party — as a “new kind of Republican,” one who won’t take his cues from GOP leadership.
He has said he would bring his military and Hispanic background to bear on his performance in the Senate.
It’s an argument that appeals to Massachusetts voters who are wary of the national GOP and Washington in general.
Gomez’s outsider credibility also contrasts with Democratic nominee Rep. Edward Markey, who has nearly four decades of service in the House.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) hasn’t heavily pushed the message.
It has issued Web ads that hammer Markey for his long tenure in Congress and an introductory Web video highlighting Gomez’s heritage and military background.
The committee has done polling for the candidate and sent staff to help his campaign, but has not yet publicly spent significant money on the race.
Two Republican senators, Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have issued fundraising pitches for Gomez.
But they may have done more to hurt his message than help in heavily blue Massachusetts.
Democrats have sent the senators’ emails to their own fundraising base with a warning that Gomez could help Republicans block initiatives by President Obama, who remains popular in Massachusetts.
Gomez and Markey face off Wednesday in the first of two debates ahead of the June 25 special election, giving the GOP candidate a chance to prove his mettle.
The Massachusetts GOP began airing a $400,000 joint television buy with Gomez this week, enough to hit the Boston and Springfield markets.
But for all of the NRSC’s laudatory Web videos and fundraising pleas, Gomez is still facing a lack of support from national Republicans.
The absence of help has been so striking that a member of Gomez’s campaign team last week questioned on Twitter whether conservatives were truly committed to helping the GOP candidate.
“Do conservatives have nerve to try & win? Will mod R donor class put its money where mouth is? Is this a party or therapy session? #MASEN ?s” tweeted Brad Todd of OnMessage Inc., one of the firms Gomez has hired to handle his media and polling.
Todd told The Hill his frustration lies not with the NRSC but rather with GOP donors nationwide who are still wary of investing their money in Massachusetts.
“There have been plenty of Republicans that have been moping around in sackcloth lab coats looking for the original strain of the virus that caused us to lose last year. It’s time that they get up off the couch and help us,” he said.
“We need to be able to have the resources to stay competitive. Congressman Markey’s had a big advantage on air — it’s been 2-1. We need regular Republicans and conservatives around the country go online and give money to support their candidate.”
Outside GOP groups like the Karl Rove-backed super-PAC American Crossroads could help level Gomez’s spending disadvantage. But they’re wary of getting involved until they’re sure the race is winnable.
The NRSC touted polling that showed Gomez down 7 percentage points last week. But a more recent New England College poll, released Tuesday, showed the Republican lagging behind Markey by 12 percentage points. The NRSC has urged Republicans to help Gomez narrow the gap.
Ward Baker, the committee’s political director, said in a state-of-the-race memo on Monday that Markey’s campaign is in a “full-fledged free fall,” and closed with a plea for help.
“An upset is brewing. Gabriel Gomez can win, but he can’t do it alone. People seeking a change in Washington — whether they are Republicans, Democrats or Independents — should be aware that this race offers that real opportunity,” Baker wrote.
One GOP strategist said several groups are waiting to see what the super-PAC launched by Gomez supporters — Committee For A Better Massachusetts — will do.
The super-PAC launched a small radio advertising buy in early April, but it hasn’t spent on the race since.
The GOP strategist noted that there needs to be some confidence Gomez can pull out a win before any outside groups will engage substantially.
“It really would require a pretty big expenditure to move numbers. To go statewide strong for a couple of weeks, you’re probably looking at, at least $1.5 [million] to $2 million,” the strategist said. “That’s a fairly big commitment out of cycle — and especially for a seat Republicans are only likely to hold for 18 months.”