In the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, I profile Gabriel Gomez, the Republican Senate hopeful from Massachusetts, who’ll square off against Democratic Representative Ed Markey on June 25. Gomez is a former private equity executive—which is a less-than-ideal bullet point to have on the résumé, after Mitt Romney’s candidacy reset most people’s estimation of the profession as falling somewhere between seal-clubbers and ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyers.
Nevertheless, for much of the race, Gomez has overperformed in a state where he’s at a humongous disadvantage—Romney lost Massachusetts by 24 points. A succession of polls (of varying quality and credibility) has shown Gomez trailing Markey by anywhere from 3 points to 20 points. The improvement relative to Romney’s performance owes a great deal to Gomez’s moderation: He’s pro-gay marriage, pro-pay equality for women, pro-gun background checks, pro-science-as-it-pertains-to-global-warming, and he doesn’t hate on immigrants like the Tancredo-King-Sessions wing of his party.
In fact, the real obstacle for Gomez isn’t Markey—a smug, lackluster campaigner plainly expecting to coast to victory. It’s the national Republican Party under whose auspices Gomez has the misfortune of having to run.
After the election, the near-consensus within the GOP was that the party needed to moderate its image, stop frightening women and Latinos, stop obsessing over Obamacare, stop saying weird things about sex and rape, and put forward an economic agenda that would appeal to lower-income and middle-class Americans struggling to get by in a weak economy. They were supposed to become a party that people would identify with candidates like Gomez.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, the House GOP has voted to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks; to deport the children of undocumented immigrants; to repeal Obamacare (the 37th time they’ve voted on this). Just yesterday, they tried—but failed—to cut $20 billion from the nutritional assistance program that mainly benefits poor children, the elderly, and the severely disabled. Along the way, Republicans have downplayed the importance of pregnancies caused by rape and suggested that abortion should be outlawed even earlier than 20 weeks because, as Texas Representative Michael Burgess said, it looked to him like fetuses as early as 15 weeks were capable of masturbation.
So the Republican rebranding effort isn’t going so well. And it could be killing any chance that candidates like Gomez have to get elected.