By Douglas Moser and Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Several recent polls show U.S. Senate hopeful Gabriel Gomez trailing his Democratic rival for the seat, Congressman Edward Markey, in the week leading up to Tuesday’s special election.
In Lawrence, Gomez’s climb seems especially uphill as local community and political leaders said this week that many of the city’s voters likely will come out for Markey despite Gomez’s Latino heritage and his outreach in the city, having visited multiple times since he announced his candidacy earlier this year.
Markey supporters in Lawrence said that while they admire Gomez’s personal story, they will vote for Markey because he lines up with them on multiple issues in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.
“He may be Latino, but we’re supporting the candidate who has the best package for everybody,” said Rafael Guzman, president of RN Technologies and a Markey supporter.
Guzman said he supports Markey’s positions on immigration, women’s rights and the social safety net.
State Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, appeared with Markey in Lawrence recently and has been working for his campaign. Devers, who also is challenging William Lantigua in the mayoral election, said he admires Gomez’s background, but thinks voters will choose the candidate whom they agree with.
“I know that Gabriel is Hispanic and I commend him and admire him for his accomplishments. He served our country, and wants to serve our nation as a senator,” Devers said. “However, party policies and the platform is where we might have our differences, and the way the issues are addressed.”
Devers also disagrees with Gomez on immigration, and thinks electing Markey in the Senate will help President Obama pass his agenda.
Enrique Matos, a Republican who lost to Devers for state representative in 2010, said Gomez’ history – he is the American-born son of Colombian immigrants, joined the Navy and qualified for one of its elite SEAL teams, graduated from Harvard University and succeeded in business – makes him a role model.
“I think people like him are who our children should look at, not to someone where they will be taken care of,” Matos said.
He said Gomez’s policy ideas would be helpful to struggling communities. “I want to teach people how to fish. I don’t want to give people fish for one day,” he said. “Waiting for crumbs to fall, there’s no life there. I want someone they can follow and become independent.”
However, people said Gomez failed to make a connection in Lawrence. Political analyst Pedro Payano said he has not seen any campaigning for Gomez in Lawrence, where the majority of its residents are of Hispanic descent. While he has received mailings for Markey, Payano said he has not seen any for Gomez.
“Few people know about him here. There’s no connection, which is fundamental for a candidate,” Payano said. “He’s either not focusing on Lawrence or feels so sure that he’ll get many votes because he is Latino.”
Payano, who ran for mayor in 2009, said Gomez calls himself “a new Republican” but he sounds like the old candidates from the GOP. “He’s not bringing anything new. He is not sure in his speeches, he’s inexperienced, does not know what he wants and contradicts himself,” Payano said.
At the beginning of the race, Payano said a group of Lawrence residents were backing Gomez, but later changed their mind.
“It doesn’t matter if a candidate is Latino, Anglo or black, we will support them, as long as we can identify with them,” Payano said, though he added it might help if they speak Spanish, dance merengue or salsa and taste traditional dishes.
“I don’t think his problem is being Colombian, but the fact that he is Republican. Latinos tends to look for someone who advocate for education, public health and jobs,” Payano said.
Ramon Garcia agrees the U.S. Senate thinks new blood, but doesn’t believe Gomez is the right man for the job, despite being a veteran like himself. “It’s nothing personal, it’s because of his ideas,” he said.
Garcia said he will not vote for Gomez because of his opposition to tax increases for the rich.
“He wants to punish the poor and leave the rich people alone,” said Garcia. “That really hurt him. He would have had a great opportunity with Hispanics, but it makes it seem as if he doesn’t care for the poor, and in turn Hispanics are saying, ‘Why should we vote for him?’”
Virginia Garcia, director of the Lawrence Senior Center who emigrated from Ecuador, said she is proud a Latino has reached that level of political clout. However, being a Republican may be the reason why there is not more support for Gomez.
“You can’t base your vote on whether a candidate is Latino or not. You have to see his platform and determine what’s best for us and how his vote will benefit us, our children and our families,” she said.
Three polls in the last two weeks showed Markey with leads of between 7 and 13 percentage points.
In January, former Sen. John Kerry resigned the seat to become U.S. Secretary of State. Gov. Deval Patrick appointed Mo Cowan, a confidante, to represent Massachusetts until a successor could be elected.
The winner of Tuesday’s contest will have to run for a full term next year.
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