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On Trail, Republican Gomez Counts Political Neophyte Status As Asset

“Outside of work, what I like to do the most is run,” says Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Gabriel Gomez. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

“Outside of work, what I like to do the most is run,” says Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Gabriel Gomez. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

COHASSET, Mass. — Of the five Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, perhaps the least known to Massachusetts voters is Republican Gabriel Gomez. He’s a newcomer to politics.

On a jog around Cohasset, where he lives, the private equity manager counts his status as a political neophyte as an asset.

“I tell you, the reason you should vote for me is because I am who I am,” Gomez said. “Who they see and who they hear is exactly who I am. I’m a fiscal conservative and I’ve got conservative views on a number of issues, but I’m going to go down there and do what’s right for the people of Massachusetts and I’m going to come back after two terms.

“I’m not a career politician and I’m not set in any kind of ideological position that’s going to make me go so far to one side,” he added.

On primary day, April 30, Gomez will find out if his run as an outsider to politics appeals to Massachusetts voters.

Gomez met me at 6:15 a.m. in front of his white Second Empire house on Cohasset common. Inside, his wife, Sarah, is getting their four children ready for school.

“Outside of work, what I like to do the most is run,” Gomez said. “It refreshes my mind, so we have a kind of release. And we’re lucky we live in a town where you can run and the scenery’s unbelievable, go down by the water, down by the beach. Makes running a lot easier.”

Gomez is a man who inspires loyal friends. Craig Coffey, who is running with us, is among them.

“We’ve done a handful of marathons together,” Coffey said. “We’ve done the Marine Corps Marathon twice. We’ve done one in New Hampshire. We did something called the Reach the Beach Relay, which is a 12-person, 207-mile relay race up in New Hampshire. A lot of our relationship focuses around our shared interest in running, which gives you a lot of time to talk to someone, to get to know them.”

Coffey clearly believes in his friend. “He sticks to his word and he follows through, and he’s a reliable, decent, good guy,” he said.

Coffey says he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time on the campaign trail with Gomez, but he says his friend is already having an impact on the former aides to Charlie Baker, Mitt Romney and Scott Brown that Gomez has hired.

“What I’m seeing is that his staff is starting to feel the same way that his friends feel about him, and it’s becoming more of a very loyal, personal matter for them to support him and work for him,” Coffey said. “So a lot of the staff members have told me this is becoming more like a mission for them.”

‘Not His Natural Environment’

In debates and as he talks to groups of reporters, Gomez’s hands often shake. Coffey is hoping that Gomez can learn to relax as he tries to win over voters.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Gabriel Gomez. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Gabriel Gomez. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“He’s naturally nervous as not a career politician,” Coffey said. “This is not his natural environment, stumping, giving speeches, trying to have prepared remarks. He’s just much more of a natural guy, and I’m hoping that starts to come through and shine through.”

Gomez says his runs with Coffey helped him decide to run for the Senate.

“I’ve been interested in politics for a while, and I see what’s going on down there, and fortunately I have a great friend like Craig and we talk a lot about this stuff,” Gomez said. “And we say to each other, ‘You know what? There’s no difference between those guys and us up here.’ I’ve got four kids and I really don’t think they’re going to have the same chance at the same dream I had. I finally said, ‘You know what? I’m going to raise my hand.’ ”

SEAL Training

The 47-year-old Gomez is a former Navy SEAL. Alden Mills, who went through SEAL training with Gomez, remembers how Gomez helped him get through a grueling swim.

“I had gotten sick during hell week and the sickness hadn’t left my lung, and Gabe and I were swim buddies so every week you have to enter a two-mile ocean swim, and the two-mile ocean swim started at some point and turns into a three-and-a-half-mile ocean swim, and we were both good swimmers, so swimming wasn’t a problem for us, but I started slowing down, and he stopped and looked at me,” Mills said.

“Gee buddy, what’s going on?” Mills recalled Gomez asking him. Mills was having a hard time breathing.

“He was always so concerned about my health,” Mills said. “Some guys are, ‘Come on, you’ve got to win this race! You gotta win the race.’ There’s a lot of pressure on teams, on your swim buddy pair every week, to swim faster than your time before. But Gabe didn’t let that pressure get to us. I had to stop swimming. I started coughing up blood.”

Mills remembers Gomez putting his arm around him and calling the instructors’ boat over.

“And he had to get out of the water with me,” Mills said. “Getting out of the water is not something you want to do when you’re in these swims. And he was so gracious about helping me out that he basically took the failure for that week with me on that swim.”

“You never leave your swim buddy,” Gomez said. “You never let anybody go alone, and they ingrain it into you literally from the first day of training. You can be a complete stud and everything, but if you get caught alone or without somebody, it’s one of the ways they can kick you out.”

Mills calls Gomez the epitome of a SEAL officer.

“Totally solid,” Mills said. “He was always caring about his men. It was always the men first. It was always about the troops, always about the troops.”

Gomez led his class through the physically punishing SEAL training even though he was four years older than the other men. Before becoming a SEAL, Gomez began his Navy career as a pilot.

“Like everything else, I wanted to do something that was going to be challenging and a lot of fun, and I thought would be very productive,” Gomez said. ” ‘Top Gun’ had just come out, too, the year before I graduated, and it drove a lot of people to go be a pilot. Luckily, I did well enough at the academy where I got my first choice and got the chance to go to flight school. And a lot of my friends were picking it, too.”

Naval Academy classmate David Buckley says Gomez ended up flying radar planes off carriers.

“They’re kind of the biggest target because they have a large radar emitter on top of the plane, so anybody that’s interested in not being seen would want to take them out,” Buckley said.

Gomez also flew cargo planes off carriers. That was when Paul Villagomez met him. The two men were among the only three Latino pilots in the Navy.

“We were like a corporate airplane flying VIPs and dignitaries and staff and parts, high-priority parts to the carriers, normal staff rotations, personnel that needed to come off the ship in an emergency — like for emergency leave, they had a death in the family,” Villagomez recalled. “You flew the mail, also. We were the mailmen. Some of us had on our flight suits a little U.S. Mail patch because we were considered the mail guys, and the carrier guys loved us because we brought the mail. They would always ask, ‘How much mail do you have?’ while we were circling to land.”

After four years of flying, Gomez entered SEAL training.

“I just didn’t want to look back in life and have any regrets and sit there and just wish I’d have done something and not do it because it was just too hard and everybody else was saying the odds were stacked against you,” Gomez said. “So I said, ‘Look, I’m 25 years old, I’m going to do it.’ ”

In 1996, after five years in the SEALs, he decided it was time to leave.

“You know, at that time, as an officer, your operational life, meaning that you’re doing all the fun stuff, you’re blowing stuff up, you’re diving, you’re jumping, you’re deploying around, you’re in charge of platoons, really ends at about the nine-, 10-year mark,” Gomez said. “After that, as an officer, you become more of a desk job. And I just thought: Look, I’m doing this because this is the fun stuff, and I really enjoy being with the guys and leading them.”

Business School

Gomez says he just didn’t want to spend his next 10 years in the Navy behind a desk. So he went to Harvard Business School and into private equity where he made millions. He and his wife Sarah moved to Cohasset, where he became friends with Chris Nelson.

“He is, I would say, a fairly opinionated person, and by that I mean he’s not bashful about telling the world what he thinks about a particular topic, and very comfortable taking a position on things and letting you know what that is,” Nelson said.

In 2006, Paul Barresi served with Gomez on the Cohasset School Budget Investigation Committee that looked into how the schools were handling a budget deficit.

“He was very, very good,” Barresi recalled. “He was there at every meeting.”

Gomez also helped attract businesses around the Cohasset commuter rail station when he served on the town’s economic development committee with Tom Powers.

“He’s a real bright guy,” Powers said. “He’s aggressive. He’s competent. I think he knows what he’s doing.”

‘A New Kind Of Republican’

Gomez may be the first U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts to field questions in Spanish, his native language. His parents emigrated from Colombia to Los Angeles a year before he was born.

At a warehouse in Wilmington, a woman told him she’s heard that Republicans are against immigration reform.

“I am a new kind of Republican,” Gomez answered in Spanish. “I have some positions that not all Republicans share and I think immigration is one of those. Not many Republicans are first-generation Americans. Not many Republicans learned another language before English.”

At another stop, Gomez greeted customers at a sports bar in the Fenway. One man asked him whether he’s a liberal or conservative Republican.

“I’m probably in between the two guys I’m running against,” Gomez replied. “A fiscal conservative. On immigration, gay marriage, gun control, I’m common sense.”

His Republican rivals, state Rep. Dan Winslow, of Norfolk, and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, have criticized Gomez for contributing $230 to President Obama’s campaign during his primary run against Hillary Clinton in 2008. Gomez says he voted for Republican Sen. John McCain.

Gomez says states should be free to design their own health care programs and he would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Another man asks Gomez if he denies climate change.

“I don’t deny climate change,” Gomez answered. “We got something to do with it.”

A Sprint

As we start up the last hill back to his house, Gomez calls this special election a sprint.

“I think this race is wide open,” he said. “I think it’s going to come down to who is going to work the hardest? Who is going to go out and meet more people? And who is going to get their name and their message out there the most and the best? And what’s resonating is people don’t want to send another person who has been in politics a good part of their life. They respect the military service.”

We finish the three miles in 32 minutes flat.

“That was a good warm-up,” he said. “That flew by. That was a 5K. It flew by pretty quick.”

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