BOSTON — As former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez gears up to announce his bid for U.S. Senate, he’s facing a dilemma that flummoxed fellow Republican and former Sen. Scott Brown: what to say about President Obama.
The Democratic president remains popular in Massachusetts, having handily defeating GOP presidential hopeful and former Gov. Mitt Romney on what should have been Romney’s home turf.
For Brown, Obama’s popularity became a political albatross of sorts. While Brown won the 2010 special election after U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death in part by vowing to be the 41st vote against Obama’s health care proposal, once in office he quickly tried to embrace the president.
Brown boasted of working with Obama to pass bills. While officially endorsing Romney, he posted pictures and videos of himself with Obama on his campaign website.
Despite those efforts, Democrats successfully argued that a Brown win versus Elizabeth Warren could have tipped the Senate into GOP hands, undermining Obama.
Gomez, a Cohasset businessman, faces a similar challenge.
In interviews and an editorial for his hometown newspaper, Gomez has strongly criticized Obama for using the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan as a political talking point in his re-election campaign while also crediting the president for giving the green light on the risky operation.
“When the mission’s accomplishments are mentioned by President Obama, the word `I’ is heard more often than `we,’ insinuating his ownership of the mission,” Gomez wrote in a commentary posted by the Cohasset Mariner last May.
“We must realize that President Obama has never worn a military uniform, or faced danger in a combat zone,” Gomez added. “Perhaps he does not realize just how critical the `stealth’ factor of these missions is. Perhaps he does not realize that by divulging crucial tactics, he is betraying future missions.”
Gomez also suggested the safety of Navy SEALs and their families has been put at risk.
“Those families and neighbors, those children, that community should not be put in a position where they may pay the price as a direct result of `The Osama Games,”‘ he wrote. “It’s a dangerous game, where the President and his top aides are treating the SEAL Teams and their military code like a `game move’ for his re-election.”
Gomez did not return calls from The Associated Press for this story. His campaign aides say he won’t speak to the press until Thursday, a day after the signature-gathering deadline for the special Senate election. They said he plans a statewide tour on Thursday to announce his candidacy and meet with voters.
A top aide said Gomez wasn’t backing away from his comments but also wasn’t out to tear down Obama, to whose campaign he donated $250 in 2008 and $230 the year before.
“It’s hard to argue that the guy was trying to swift-boat a president he had donated to,” Gomez campaign aide Lenny Alcivar said.
Gomez donated $2,500 to Romney in 2011.
Democrats have been quick to fault Gomez’s criticism of Obama and his association with a group that also said the president took too much credit for the bin Laden raid.
State Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh criticized Gomez for “hanging out last year with a secretive group that tried, and failed, to damage the president for his handling of bringing justice to Osama bin Laden.”
The group, Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund Inc., produced a 22-minute video during the presidential election criticizing Obama.
During an interview last year on MSNBC, Gomez said Obama should have followed the model of other presidents.
“The only time that these presidents, Lincoln and Eisenhower and other wartime presidents, ever used the word `I’ was when they said `I thank you’ to the troops,” Gomez said during the interview.
Supporters of Gomez say his defense of fellow Navy SEALs is personal and runs deep.
Gomez helped found the group Navy SEAL Foundation of New England, which is obtaining formal nonprofit status in Massachusetts.
Jeff Sabados also helped organize the group, which he said collected $200,000 at a fundraiser last year and is planning another event this summer. He said the money was donated to the national Navy SEAL Foundation, which supports former SEALs and their families.
“Gabriel was the catalyst and the leader behind that,” said Sabados, also a former Navy SEAL. “He wanted to make a difference and see how much we could raise. He’s a phenomenal person that really cares about making the world a better place.”
One argument Democrats won’t be able to make is that a Gomez win could put the Senate in GOP hands. Even if Gomez is successful, Democrats would still control the chamber.
Gomez is one of three Republicans hoping to be named on the April 30 primary ballot to fill the seat vacated by former Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who became U.S. secretary of state. Norfolk state Rep. Daniel Winslow and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan are the others.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch are competing against each other.