Gomez Faces Hard Task of Winning Over Latino Voters

LAWRENCE, Mass. — Republican Gabriel Gomez is the first Latino candidate of either party to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts. When he won the Republican primary last month, he began his victory speech with brief remarks in Spanish.

“Thank you very much, everybody, for being here with me tonight,” he told the audience in his native language.

Gomez is the new face of a Republican Party that seeks to be more inclusive in the wake of Mitt Romney and Scott Brown’s defeats at the polls last year.

When Gomez makes campaign stops in Spanish-speaking communities, as he did at Bali’s Bar in Lawrence last week, he campaigns in Spanish. But is heritage alone enough to win Gomez enough Latino votes to take him to the Senate?

One man at Bali’s tells Gomez the more Latinos in power, the better. But he adds a caveat.

“I would have to see what qualities he has, also, because it’s not just the fact of being Latino,” Bernardo de Leon said. “I would have to hear that he is going to do the right thing and that he is a capable person. That’s what matters.”

De Leon, a Democrat, was surprised to hear Gomez is a Republican. He says he has to investigate more, but if he thinks Gomez can do the job he says he’d vote for him.

Gomez is the first to say he is not making his appeal to Latinos simply on the basis of identity.

“My message to Latinos is that I am Latino,” Gomez said at a campaign stop at the Puerto Rican veterans’ memorial in the South End. “I grew up like them and I am going to work as hard as I can for the economy and so that there are more jobs for everybody, including Latinos.”

Gomez faces a high hurdle among Latino voters. Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington who conducts polls for Latino Decisions, explains just how high. He found in the days before last year’s U.S. Senate election, Elizabeth Warren was leading Scott Brown by a huge margin among Latinos.

“It was very, very large — 86 to 14,” Barreto said. “That was one of the largest margins of any state.”

Barreto says in order for Latinos to put him in the U.S. Senate, Gomez would have to double Brown’s margin, which means he needs 28 percent of the Latino vote. Alejandra St. Guillen, who runs Oiste, a nonpartisan group dedicated to improving Latino voter participation in Massachusetts, says that’s not an impossible goal.

“I think of those who will go out and vote, I don’t think that he’ll have an issue getting the 30 percent,” St. Guillen said. “In general, the voter turnout is much lower in a special election.”

But Gomez faces some daunting opponents dedicated to turning out the Latino vote for his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey.

They include personal care attendants Rosa Clase and Emily Rodriguez, from Springfield, and Pedro Ayala, from Lawrence. Last year, they and their colleagues in the Service Employees International Union knocked on thousands of doors for Warren. They believe they are responsible for increasing turnout in seven cities with a large Latino population.

For example, Lawrence saw a 13 percent increase in voter turnout over 2008. And Warren received three times as many votes as Martha Coakley did in 2010. The SEIU workers aim to do it again.

“Gomez speaks Spanish, but in reality he doesn’t have the same problems we have,” Ayala said. “He doesn’t support the programs we have in Lawrence and in other communities.”

“He has his last name in common with us,” Rodriguez said. “He is Hispanic, but in reality he hasn’t done anything for us. He has no record that indicates he’s going to benefit us. The fact that he’s Latino doesn’t mean anything.”

“What guarantee do we have, if he’s never done anything for Hispanics, that he’ll do it now?” Clase said.

They are confident that they can persuade Latinos to vote against Gomez because, they say, they identify with the people they are trying to persuade. Gomez has six weeks to prove them wrong.

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  • Toonie29

    Thys clearly spent a lot of time talking about the obstacles that Gomez is facing in courting the Latino vote, and talking to those forces working against his efforts (e.g., SEIU), but he barely mentioned any efforts Gomez is making to gain the Latino vote.

    Did he have any Latino supporters at the Puerto Rican Memorial event? Thys was able to find Latinos opposed to, or undecided on Gomez; was he able to find any Latinos that are supporting him? Are there any Latino Republican groups in MA that are working on his behalf?

    Given the fact that it must be rare (or previously non-existent) to have a Republican actively courting the Latino vote in MA, I found Thys’ efforts at a balanced or uniquely informative story to be underwhelming at best. (Unless we’re somehow supposed to be surprised that SEIU is campaigning against the Republican candidate.)

    Thys covering the work against Gomez: A-
    Thys covering Gomez’s efforts to reach out the Latino community: C-

    • dust truck

      Are we reading the same article? Thys mentions it at the beginning of the article. It’s a short article so there’s not much depth on either topic.

  • maraith

    Gomez is from a rich family and came here because his father, educated at Stanford, was transferred here for work. This is far from the case of most Hispanic immigrants. And if he supports the GOP then he demonstrates even more how little he understands the difficulties facing Hispanic and poorer voters.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      yeah most of them go to yale

    • Cabanator

      Maraith, which Hispanic immigrants are you talking about? I don’t think you know much about the Hispanic immigrant community in Massachusetts. Most of the Hispanic immigrants that I know in MA came into the US legally (either on a student, work, or tourist visa), because they flew here (didn’t cross the border on foot). To get even a tourist visa to enter the US as a Latino requires that you be of reasonable means. The US Embassy requires all kinds of financial information before they will consider granting a visa, and anyone who is too poor is generally denied. Those who stay and work illegally do end up in what we Americans would consider to be lower-class jobs–food service, house cleaning, etc., because of the fact that they don’t have official work visas. However, many of them send a substantial amount of the money they make back home and actually build significant wealth for themselves in their home countries. I know Latino immigrants who are buying up beachfront properties in their home countries and others who are using their earnings to finance new businesses. Let’s not forget about the many other Latinos who come to MA to study or work at our universities. Before you claim that Gomez doesn’t understand Hispanic voters, you should do some of your own research, instead of assuming that all Hispanic immigrants are poor laborers who came to the US to be sharecroppers. This is especially not the case for Latinos in MA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    what kind of a “latino” is he? is he a puerto rican? they reffered to his “native languange” where is he a native of?
    one would imagine a guy named gabrial gomez would do twice as well as a guy named scott brown with hispanics but we will have to find out

    • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys

      His parents are originally from Colombia. His native language is Spanish.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        cool, its funny that with all the political corectness they just lump everyone who speaks spanish into latino or hispanic( and i have no idea how the whole “white hispanic” thing works.) and its to the point where you cant even tell where people are from. although if he was born here and it sounds like from what you said he was then he is an american and although we have no official national language his native language would be english. i wonder why WBUR has chosen to focus on his ancestry instead of his service as navy seal or as a businessman?

        • Cabanator

          The term “native” language is generally understood to be synonymous with “first” or “mother” language or tongue. It describes the first language you learned to speak from infancy. Therefore, being born in the US does NOT mean that your native language is automatically English. Most infants learn their first language from parents and other family members. Therefore, if Gomez’s parents and other family members spoke Spanish to him and around him in their home, Spanish would be his native language. Of course growing up in the US means that Gomez would have been exposed to English from a very young age–especially once he interacted with other kids in preschool, play groups, etc. For that reason he would best be termed “bilingual,” and does not have a Spanish accent when speaking English.

          I think WBUR is vastly underestimating the Latino vote that Gomez could pull just for being Latino. If he can stick with a moderate message and get some fellow Latinos in the state to campaign for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was able to get close to a majority of the Latino vote.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            looks like the natives are restless

        • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys

          He was born in the United States, but his first language was Spanish.

          We did a story dealing with his service as a Navy SEAL: http://bit.ly/ZidLuO

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            maybe you can explain the “white hispanic” thing is gomez for example a white hispanic?

          • J__o__h__n

            I had no idea he was a Navy SEAL. He needs to mention it more often.

  • J__o__h__n

    I was alarmed by the story this morning that Gomez didn’t know how to answer the questions regarding the Stupak amendment and exempting employers from providing reproductive services. Why is he running for senator if he doesn’t understand important national issues?

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