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Selling Republican Lite in Massachusetts

Gomez to the voters: My party is crazy, but I'm not

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The special election for John Kerry’s vacant Senate seat in Massachusetts is less than two weeks away. And the Republican nominee is doing everything he can to convince voters he’s not actually a Republican.

In a debate on Tuesday night, Gabriel Gomez talked about his differences with his party’s leadership. And he was not at all shy about it. Gomez described himself as a “green Republican” and said he was “ashamed” that “there are people in my party who deny science.” He came out for raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour, a position he’d apparently not revealed before, and he reiterated his support for the Toomey-Manchin background check bill. “I think there a lot of people in my part who are wrong on gun control,” Gomez said. “The NRA is completely wrong on this. … I’m ashamed that only four Republicans voted for it.” The Boston Globe has a full account, if you want the details.

It’s an open question just how much Gomez, if elected, would break with his party. He isn’t lying about the differences with GOP leadership, but those differences go only so far. On guns, for example, Gomez supports background checks. But he has indicated he opposes both an assault weapons ban and restrictions on high-capacity clips (although his position has been a little ambiguous). Markey, like most Democrats, endorses both of these measures. And while Gomez believes climate change is a real, man-made phenomenon, he has criticized efforts to fight it because of their supposed negative effects on the economy. (According to Think Progress, he also has significant investments in dirty energy industries.) Markey, by contrast, has been a leader in efforts to fight climate change and promote clean energy. “If there was an environmental hall of fame, Markey would be in there,” Heather Taylor, director of the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund, told Mother Jones.

But the most important vote Gomez would take as senator would be the one he makes for Senate leadership. Control of the Senate is very much up for grabs in 2014, which means control of its agenda and its committees are up for grabs too. If Republicans are in charge, it won’t matter that Gomez supports background checks or a higher minimum wage, because the bills probably won’t get out of committee. And when it comes to legislation that must pass—like annual appropriations—it won’t make much difference that Gomez is less committed to a Tea Party agenda. The Senate proposals are going to look more or less like the Republican budgets we’ve seen before, with big tax cuts for the wealthy and substantial spending cuts for domestic programs. And that will change the budget debate as a whole.

Maybe Gomez is an ambivalent Republican, and maybe he isn’t. Either way, he’s still a Republican who, next January, would vote to let his party lead the Senate. That's a big difference.

Jonathan Cohn is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him on Twitter @citizencohn.