For a while there, it looked as if Gabriel Gomez might be the next Scott Brown.
Today, he's looking more like another Massachusetts Republican: Mitt Romney.
The special Senate election candidate continues to struggle underneath accusations that he went too far in taking advantage of a tax break for his historical residence. According to a Boston Globe report, Gomez took a $281,500 deduction in 2005 for pledging not to make changes to the exterior of his $2.1 million home.
As the Globe also notes, though, Gomez was already prohibited by the local historical commission from making such changes. And soon after Gomez took the deduction (just five weeks, in fact) the Internal Revenue Service included such an arrangement among its "Dirty Dozen tax scams."
"In many cases, local historic preservation laws already prohibit alteration of the home’s facade, making the contributed easement superfluous," the IRS wrote. "Even if the facade could be altered, the deduction claimed for the easement contribution may far exceed the easement’s impact on the value of the property."
Those words from the IRS have turned what might have been a momentary distraction into a much bigger deal for Gomez.
And now Gomez's campaign is struggling with a very Romney-esque situation in which it has to decide whether to release his 2005 tax return, as he's being pressured by reporters to do, or try to hope the controversy dies down.
If Romney's experience is any indication, it will be hard for Gomez's campaign to resist the pressure. And the longer it holds out, the more it risks feeding the storyline that he did something untoward.
There is very little room for error in his match-up with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Winning as a Republican in Massachusetts is difficult and requires few or no mistakes. Some polls have shown Gomez is competitive, but a lot of pieces need to fall into place.
Republicans argue that Markey has played a major role in setting tax code rules during his decades in public office and is to blame for such confusion.
"Ed Markey has been in Congress for 36 years, complicating the tax code and voting for frustrating complications that taxpayers like Gabriel Gomez have to deal with," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Ed Markey is attacking Gabriel Gomez for abiding by the very tax code that Markey codified into law."
Republicans and Gomez's campaign might not see the tax deduction as a mistake -- indeed, without the IRS's ill-timed "tax scam" designation, this likely would have been a one-day story and the subject of a campaign ad or two -- but the fact is that it has a situation to deal with now.
There are no good options at this point, but recent history suggests that the best option is to put your tax cards on the table and hope to move on.
After all, the (perceived) political cover-up is almost always worse than the crime.
And now, to our list of the 10 Senate seats most likely to change control in 2014. As always, No. 1 is most likely to change control.
To the line!
10. (tie) Georgia (Republican-held) and Michigan (Democratic-held): These seats are again tied for 10th because they offer similar dynamics. Both feature retiring incumbents, favor the party that currently holds them, and depend a ton on who the opposition party can recruit. The GOP primary in Georgia is more troubling for Republicans than Rep. Gary Peters’s (D) clear primary is for Democrats in Michigan, but Georgia Democrats just lost their biggest name -- Rep. John Barrow -- and now they’re talking up a potential first-time political candidate in former senator Sam Nunn’s (D-Ga.) daughter, Michelle Nunn. Michigan Republicans at least have some known quantities looking at running, most notably Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). (Previous rankings: 10 and N/A, respectively)
9. Kentucky (R): We’ve still got Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat as our most vulnerable GOP-held seat, but that might change. Democrats still haven’t found a candidate to take him on, with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) now the subject of attention. McConnell’s campaign has proven unrelenting, though, and you have to believe that’s making Grimes think twice about running. If she doesn’t, it’s not clear who would be next in line. In the meantime, McConnell is building a huge financial advantage. (Previous ranking: 8)
8. Iowa (D): Rep. Steve King’s (R) decision not to run helps the GOP avoid what some saw as a potential problem candidate. The question remains, though, whether they can get somebody else who's formidable on the ballot. Rep. Tom Latham, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey have also said no, meaning we’re now dipping well into the second tier of available candidates. Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who has a clear primary and retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) endorsement, is looking more and more like a favorite. (Previous ranking: 7)
7. Montana (D): Democratic Sen. Max Baucus's retirement could actually work in Democrats' favor, if popular former governor Brian Schweitzer (D) decides to run. A person familiar with Schweitzer's thinking said shortly after Baucus's retirement decision was reported that the bolo-tie sporting Democrat was leaning towards running. If he does, he would do so without the Washington baggage that would have saddled Baucus. But remember, this is still a very red state, and no Democratic candidate -- not even Schweitzer -- is a sure thing. And if he doesn't run, advantage GOP. (Previous ranking: 9).
6. North Carolina (D): Recent numbers from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling suggest Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) helped herself by supporting expanded background checks on gun sales, even as the measure failed in the Senate. North Carolina's political and geographic profile means Hagan will have to keep the progressive base energized to win, while also appealing to moderate voters. That's no small task. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, potential prospects include Rep. Renee Ellmers, state Speaker Thom Tillis and state Senate President pro Tem Phil Berger. (Previous ranking: 5)
5. Louisiana (D): Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) will challenge Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), setting the stage for a competitive 2014 showdown between two members of Congress. Cassidy has hired some well-known consultants and has been gearing up for the contest against the incumbent, who polls show is vulnerable. Conservative former congressman Jeff Landry might also run, but then again he may also run for Cassidy's seat in the House. The latter offers a much better shot at victory. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Alaska (D): The big news here is popular Gov. Sean Parnell (R) opting not to challenge Sen. Mark Begich (D). Parnell was not expected to run, but he would have been a strong favorite for the GOP nomination and probably a favorite against Begich. With him out, the GOP is now assured of a crowded and likely competitive primary, led for now by Parnell's lieutenant governor, Mead Treadwell. 2010 GOP nominee Joe Miller is officially exploring the race, but polls show he’s got terrible numbers – even inside his own party. (Previous ranking: 3)
3. Arkansas (D): Sen. Mark Pryor is the most vulnerable incumbent running for reelection right now. He was one of a handful of Senate Democrats who voted against expanding background checks and has sought to underscore a moderate profile ahead of next year. The big question on the Republican side is whether Rep Tom Cotton will enter the race. Just a freshman, Cotton is beloved by fiscal conservatives (the Club For Growth has appeared to be not-so-subtly nudging him toward a bid), has already raised big money and has been making Sunday show appearances despite being a freshman. Lt. Gov Mark Darr (R) is also likely to run. (Previous ranking: 6)
2. South Dakota (D): Democrats got a candidate this week -- but it wasn't U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson or former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Rick Weiland, a former aide to Tom Daschle, is running. He doesn't think Johnson will run, and neither does a local Democratic activist who had been leading the charge to draft Johnson but has now thrown his support to Weiland. The big question now is whether Herseth Sandlin gets in. On the Republican side, former governor Mike Rounds had a lousy first quarter fundraising period, but is still a solid recruit for Republicans. If Rep. Kristi Noem (R), gets in, though, his path to the nomination will not be so smooth. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. West Virginia (D): A new poll this week from GOP pollster Mark Blankenship shows Secretary of State Natalie Tennant with a big early lead in the Democratic primary – owing in large part, no doubt, to her name ID advantage over two other potential candidates: state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis and attorney Nick Preservati. Of course, none of these candidates is yet in the race, which means Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) still has a free ride. Regardless of who runs against her, Capito is the clear early favorite. (Previous ranking: 1)