The morning after the Massachusetts special election primary, the Republican nominee up for now-Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat bucked his party’s line on gun reform to embrace background checks on firearm sales.
Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez told The Daily Rundown’s Chuck Todd on Wednesday he would have voted for the gun background check bill proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that failed in the Senate last month.
“I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment. And I think I have a pretty unique perspective, having been a SEAL and fired these weapons, and I don’t believe we need an assault weapons ban or limit rounds in high capacity magazine,” said Gomez. “We need to focus in on the bill, making sure we have the same background checks.”
Gomez’s shift from his party’s stance comes as Republicans in the state wirj to recast the race as new vs. old instead of traditional party lines that put them at a disadvantage.
In the heavily left-leaning state, newly-minted Democratic nominee Ed Markey leads as the frontrunner over Gomez. But conservatives see an opening with the young, Hispanic former Navy SEAL as their standard bearer, openly embracing his not just political inexperience over Markey’s more than three decades in Congress, but also emphasizing his departure with the rest of his party from two hot-button issues—background checks and immigration reform.
On immigration, Gomez said he would support the immigration bill proposed by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in the Senate that would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. Pointing to his heritage, Gomez tied himself to one of the bill’s chief champions and another rising Hispanic star in the party.
“I am with [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio. I have unique perspective on this as well. I am the first-generation American and my parents came here from Colombia,” said Gomez. “I learned Spanish before I learned English.”
Calling in also to talk to host Chuck Todd, Markey dismissed Gomez’s earlier statements and worked to paint his opponent as in lock step with the GOP – his best strategy to keep hold of Democratic-leaning independents who may give the moderate Republican a second look.
“What Gabriel is saying, is that he does not support a plan on support weapons. He does not support a ban on these magazines with so many bullets in them,” said Markey.
For Democrats, to avoid another embarrassing upset in a special election they must point out Markey’s progressive positions while not falling prey to the same missteps that allowed the energetic, moderate Scott Brown to beat Democrat Martha Coakley in 2010.
Markey immediately attacked his opponent for refusing to sign the “People’s Pledge” – an agreement that would curb outside money and groups wading into the race. “What Gabriel Gomez is saying, is that he is a new kind of Republican but he is saying he is going to accept all of that money,” said Markey. “It is undisclosed. It is unlimited, and it is unseemly to have that kind of outside influence not be known by the voters of the state of Massachusetts as they would be casting their ballots.”
Outside groups Wednesday morning were already indicating they may indeed wade into the race. National Republicans, who already believed Gomez could make this race competitive if he won the primary, are out with a site painting Markey as a relic of Washington, and haven’t ruled out spending in the race.
Democratic outside groups are also taking a look at the contest, and the Democratic Senate Majority PAC sent out a release painting Gomez as “Mitt Romney Jr.”
Gomez, however, happily played up the candidates’ age difference in his victory speech Tuesday night. “I want to take you back in time,” Gomez said in his remarks. “The year was 1976; 37 years ago. Gerald Ford was president. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet… That was a lifetime ago. Me, I was just playing little league baseball. And that was when Ed Markey first got elected to Congress.”
Both candidates each downplayed two controversies that their opponents will surely bring up.
Gomez explained his role as spokesman for a controversial group of military and intelligence officials who accused President Obama of endangering national security by releasing information around the killing of Osama bin Laden, saying the president took too much credit for the successful raid, and his work wasn’t in a partisan context.
“I give the president full credit for making the call to send that unit in and they did it phenomenally,” said Gomez. “What I had a major issue with is I think he took too much credit afterwars and secondly, the national security issues raised afterward, people shouldn’t have had the information what unit it was, what fact particulars they used, where they were based, et cetera.”
For Markey, charges he spends most of his time in his suburban Maryland home plays right into the picture Republicans want to paint, but he didn’t directly answer the question, saying instead it’s the issues that will matter most.
“I have lived in Malden, Mass., in the same house for 64 years,” said Markey. “This is really a campaign about my Malden values and who I vote for in the state of Massachusetts.”