“I have no idea what a senator looks like,” Gomez said, when asked about his central-casting appearance. “I mean it’s a pretty diverse group. I hope it is.” When a reporter suggested the Senate is not particularly known for its diversity, he added, “Hopefully we’re getting more diverse.”
Born to immigrants who arrived a year before his birth in Los Angeles, Gomez has the Hispanic pedigree, if not the up-from-the-bootstraps story, for which his demographically challenged party thirsts. His father traveled broadly as an executive for the world’s largest hops dealer while his mother stayed home with Gabriel and his brothers in their comfortable home in Yakima, Wash., known for its apples and cherries.
Nevertheless, the 47-year-old rarely fails to mention that his first language was Spanish and that he learned English only upon entering school. A good student and star athlete who won the state’s tennis championship, his ground strokes attracted recruiters at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated with an engineering degree and became a pilot (“It was pretty cool to be a pilot back then when ‘Top Gun’ came out,” he told members of the Cape Cod Community College Economics Club. “ ‘Maverick’ and ‘Iceman’ were already taken as call signs. But I was just Lt. G .”) He risked his wings to become a Navy SEAL and married a Peace Corps volunteer. He came home and earned a Harvard MBA in 1997, eventually making a bundle in Boston’s top private equity firms, a part of his bio he is less open about and which, along with his GOP dogma on budget issues and his resistance to Wall Street reform, Democrats think is ripe for scrutiny.
(On Thursday, the Boston Globe reported that Gomez claimed a rare $281,500 tax deduction for vowing not to alter the facade on his $2.1 million house in the South Shore seaside town of Cohasset.)
If his personal achievements are well-established, his politics have proved more amorphous. In a January letter to Gov. Deval Patrick (D), he sought appointment to Kerry’s vacant seat. He cited his service, but also his support in 2008 for Barack Obama, to whom he has also donated money. But over the summer he emerged as spokesman for a group accusing the president of endangering troops and exploiting the killing of Osama bin Laden. (Markey used split-screen shots from that video, with Gomez’s face beside bin Laden’s, in his first ad. That the congressman went negative so early is another sign that he is worried.)
A few months ago, Gomez called neighbor Peter Buckley to let him know he was considering a bid for the Kerry seat if Brown didn’t run. Buckley suggested he call Republican Massachusetts power broker and close Romney aide Ron Kaufman. Gomez now also counts Gail Gitcho, Romney’s former communications director, and other Romney alumni, including Ritter, as advisers.
“Mitt — ” Gomez said, before correcting himself. “Governor Romney called me on the day of the primary election just to wish me luck. I haven’t spoken to Governor Romney since.” Asked if he’d like to have Romney with him on the trail, he said, “I can’t control what other people do” and other noncommittal statements before saying, “I’d be happy to have Governor Romney’s help.”