BOSTON — Gabriel Gomez is hoping to be the new face of the Republican Party.
The son of Colombian immigrants, Gomez first learned to speak English in kindergarten, then went on to become a Navy pilot and SEAL, earn an MBA at Harvard Business School and launch a successful career in private equity.
As Republicans search for candidates to expand their appeal to minority voters, Gomez appears to fit the bill. But while Gomez may have the perfect resume, it’s unclear how the campaign newcomer will fare in Massachusetts’ famously rough-and-tumble politics.
The 47-year-old Cohasset businessman, one of three Republicans in the state’s special U.S. Senate race to fill the seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry, has embraced his heritage, speaking Spanish in campaign ads and portraying his life story as the American dream.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my heritage and the fact that my parents decided to stay here after I was born,” Gomez, a first-generation American, said in an interview.
Born in Los Angeles, Gomez was still a toddler when the family moved to Washington state, where his father sold hops for a living. Gomez said those formative years helped set the course for his life.
“I saw how this country embraced my parents and gave them a chance at the dream, gave me a chance at the dream,” he said. “I wanted to serve. I wanted to pay back.”
Gomez served first as a Navy pilot, flying off aircraft carriers along the East Coast, before taking a gamble and applying to the elite Navy SEALs. He was warned if he failed, he’d also lose his pilot status.
Gomez served as a SEAL from 1992 to 1995 and was stationed in South America, where he met his wife, Sarah, who was working in the West Indies as a Peace Corps volunteer at a school for special needs students.
After leaving the Navy, Gomez graduated from Harvard Business School and entered the world of private equity.
He eventually landed a job at the Boston-based investment firm Advent International, where he’s worked on pension funds and retirement systems. He’s also helped launch regional businesses like apparel company Lululemon onto the national stage. He resigned to run for Senate.
Gomez says he’s a model of how Republicans can broaden their appeal to independent and Democratic voters by talking about basic GOP principles like fiscal discipline and smaller government.
“It’s strong coming from someone who grew up just like them,” Gomez said.
While Gomez has adopted conservative economic policies, he’s also embraced more moderate social policies.
He supports gay marriage, but says it should be decided state by state. He personally opposes abortion, citing his Catholic faith, but hasn’t advocated overturning Roe v. Wade.
He said some his beliefs come from personal experience. He recalled one of his best friends in the Naval Academy who was forced out after acknowledging he was gay after being asked even though he was ranked third out of a class of more than 1,000.
“I would have been very proud to serve with this young man anywhere, anyhow, anyplace,” Gomez said.
Gomez’s campaign has hit bumps, most notably a letter he sent to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in January asking to be appointed to the Senate seat on an interim basis.
In the letter Gomez pledged to support President Barack Obama’s positions on guns and immigration. He’s since taken positions at odds with Obama and said he was simply offering to serve his country.
Gomez said he supports expanded background checks but opposes an assault weapons ban.
“If they pass all the checks and they’re qualified to use a weapon, I don’t think we need to restrict what kind of weapon they use,” he said.
On immigration, Gomez said the nation should secure its borders, but also find a pathway to legal status for those in the country illegally. He said that pathway “can’t be easy, but it can’t be impossible either,” and should include a criminal background check.
Gomez said he’d also like to see more veterans enter politics, calling it “a shame that we don’t have more senators and more congressmen that have worn the uniform.”
Of the three GOP hopefuls, including former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and state Representative Daniel Winslow, Gomez has reported raising the most money — nearly $1.2 million — although that includes $600,000 he loaned his campaign.
He reported having $499,743 left in his account heading into the final stretch to the April 30 primary.