Jay Fleitman: A report from the front on US Senate seat
NORTHAMPTON — In this neck of the woods, it is no surprise that most of the attention toward the coming special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts is being paid to the primary in the Democratic Party. But Republicans are also engaged in a primary battle, and I can report from that front.
I have become involved in the campaign of one of the Republican contestants. With the primary just two months away, and the special election less than four months off, this process is remarkably accelerated. This is in fact a microcosm of some of the most troubling aspects of politics in general, primarily with people lining up and choosing sides based on scant available information about these candidates.
On a recent weekend, I was at the Sportsman’s Show in West Springfield collecting signatures to get the candidate Dan Winslow on the primary ballot. This is fertile ground to collect Republican-leaning signatures, particularly among that part of the population interested in Second Amendment rights. My side was matched by the supporters of another primary candidate, Michael Sullivan of Abington. This is reflective of Sullivan having become the candidate of choice of a statewide grassroots network reflecting Tea Party members and social conservatives. Not represented at the Sportsman’s Show was the third primary candidate, Gabriel Gomez, a businessman from Cohasset.
Each of these candidates has very respectable credentials. Winslow was a judge in Massachusetts for seven years and is a state representative from Norfolk. He worked as chief legal counsel for Mitt Romney when he ran for Senate against Kennedy and was chief legal counsel for the Mitt Romney administration when he was governor. He also was chief legal counsel for Scott Brown’s Senate campaign.
He has developed a reputation as a brilliant, creative, and active problem-solver on Beacon Hill. He presents himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, and it is this social moderation that has already opened up lines of attack from social conservatives whose votes weigh heavily in the Republican primary process, particularly given the smaller numbers of registered Republicans in Massachusetts.
Winslow was Romney’s point man in enforcing the law following the Massachusetts court decision legalizing gay marriage. Because of his activity, the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus endorsed Winslow’s 2010 race for state representative over his Democratic opponent. This endorsement has roiled the social conservatives.
Sullivan is at the center of a grassroots campaign behind his candidacy. He also has impressive credentials. He was a two-term state representative out of Plymouth, was the district attorney from Plymouth County, was a lawyer in the Washington law firm headed by John Ashcroft and in 2006 was acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Though I cannot be fully certain what has attracted this grassroots passion emanating from the area around Worcester and projected through Facebook, I suspect it is due to his strongly pro-life stance.
Otherwise, there is little available that I can find about his political positions, particularly with reference to the major economic and political issues of our time.
The third candidate, Gomez, has an impressive background as a former Navy SEAL and Navy aircraft carrier pilot. After leaving the military, he received an master’s degree from Harvard Business School and now is a successful private equity manager and businessman. His campaign has attracted the support of the Boston-based Republican Party establishment, which has rallied around his candidacy.
Though I cannot ascertain the source of this support, I suspect that the state and national leadership sees a potential Marco Rubio of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, his entire campaign so far has been one of biography and his positions on most issues have not been available. He also has a problem among Republican primary voters in that he made small contributions to the Obama presidential campaign of 2008, which may not be a forgivable transgression.
From my perspective, he has little previous involvement in politics. Running a statewide campaign is an enormous enterprise. With only a few months to do this, the learning curve may be far too steep for him to be successful.
The Republican primary battle as it is shaping up at this point is no different than any other campaign from either party. The process involves people hitching their horses to a candidate’s cart often on the basis of very limited information, single impressions or the endorsement by friends and allies. The battle lines are then drawn, and changes of mind are hard to come by. A lack of time is the enemy of reasoned decision-making.
Jay Fleitman, M.D., lives in Northampton. His column appears the first Tuesday of the month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.