What’s the biggest difference between the victorious 2013 House special-election campaign of Mark Sanford and the losing 2013 Senate special-election campaign of Gabriel Gomez? Simply, a willingness to take on Obamacare.
Despite the kind of résumé that’s a political consultant’s dream — assimilated immigrant who still speaks his native tongue, aircraft-carrier-landing naval aviator, Navy SEAL and an MBA from the Harvard Business School to go along with his camera-friendly wife and four children — Gomez came up short in his special-election campaign against Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey, who was first elected to Congress before Tom Brady was born and had never before run statewide. Lackluster fairly describes it: It was the lowest turnout in history for a Massachusetts Senate race, and Gomez pulled in about 525,000 votes — about half of the number who voted for Scott P. Brown in January 2010 when the race became a referendum on Obamacare, the main issue that would propel Republicans to a House majority later that fall.
Regrettably, Gomez, who used some of Romney’s consultants and playbook, followed the failed model of 2012 instead of embracing what worked in 2010 and works still. He could have won with a different campaign conversation, emulating Sanford’s successful congressional bid last month, wherein Sanford distinguished himself from his opponent, and made Obamacare a central focus of the campaign.
Markey certainly gave Gomez the opening: In a debate earlier this year, Markey referred to his vote for Obamacare in March 2010 as “the proudest vote of my career.” And in a recent blog post on The Huffington Post, Markey called Obamacare “the most important bill I’ve ever voted for.”
Yet Gomez failed to make use of Markey’s cheerleading for Obamacare in either his paid or earned media. In none of the TV ads Gomez or apparently any outside group aired does the word “Obamacare” cross the announcer’s lips, and in a 10-minute interview Gomez did just two days ago on Fox News Sunday — his last friendly national interview before the electorate headed to the polls — he failed to mention the unpopular program at all.
In late May, Independent Women’s Voice reached out to the Gomez campaign to ask him to sign the Obamacare Repeal Pledge; we believed the issue could make the difference in the success or failure of his race. Gomez’s camp responded that he was not signing any pledges.
Making matters worse, in a GOP debate during the primary campaign, he declared, “I think the overall theme of Obamacare was right.” Further, his campaign website “Issues” page failed to include an explicit promise to work to repeal this behemoth and even spoke approvingly of Massachusetts’ own universal health care program — signed into law by Mitt Romney — which, predictably, has been shown to raise prices and decrease quality and choice.
As a consequence, Massachusetts voters were left with no clear distinction between the two candidates on a fundamental issue. Anti-Obamacare Democrats and independents — and every national poll shows there are tons of them — were given no reason to vote for Gomez, as many had for Brown in 2010 when he ran as the 41st vote against Obamacare. (In contrast to his 2012 campaign, which he then lost. Pattern anyone?)
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.