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Can Another Unknown Reprise Scott Brown's Upset?

Can Another Unknown Reprise Scott Brown's Upset?

By Scott Conroy - February 18, 2013

LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- When Scott Brown announced that he would not seek a return to the Senate by running for Secretary of State John Kerry’s vacated seat, Republicans’ prospects of winning their second Massachusetts special election in little more than three years dimmed significantly.

But as Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch ramp up their high-profile battle to win the April 30 Democratic primary for the seat, a far less well-known duo of Republicans is quietly giving the GOP hope that one of them might replicate Brown’s feat -- an upset win in 2010.

State Rep. Dan Winslow, who served as former Gov. Mitt Romney’s chief legal counsel from 2001 to 2005, announced his candidacy last week. And on Tuesday, Cohasset businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez declared that he will also join the race.

One other Republican -- U.S. attorney Mike Sullivan -- also is considering a run, but the clock is ticking.

Both declared Republican candidates are scrambling to obtain by Feb. 27 the required 10,000 signatures needed for a spot on the ballot. But each is expected to do so, setting up what likely will be a hard-fought GOP primary contest.

While Winslow and Gomez bring different strengths to the race, each will aim to turn his dearth of political experience (Winslow has been in the state House for just two years, while Gomez has never served in government) into an asset. Both plan to run as outsiders against whichever Capitol Hill lifer emerges from the Democratic primary and advances to the June 25 special election.

While acknowledging that winning any statewide race in Massachusetts is an uphill climb, several Bay State Republicans told RCP that they like what they’ve seen in the early going from both announced GOP candidates and are hopeful that either would give Lynch or Markey a competitive race.

“I think both of the candidates -- Gomez and Winslow -- are very strong, and it’s surprisingly encouraging,” said Republican strategist Todd Domke, who is not involved with either campaign. “I think most Republicans have realized that it’s healthy in this case to have a primary. A lot of times you say that because it’s going to happen anyway, but in this case, I think it’s actually true, because without a GOP primary, all of the focus would be on the Democrats.”

Despite Massachusetts’ reputation as the bluest of states, voters who are unenrolled in either party compose a majority (52 percent) of the electorate.

Brown won in 2010 by over-performing in the less liberal-leaning municipalities that are scattered around the state, thereby making up for the inevitable drubbing in Boston’s Suffolk County and in other Democratic bastions like Worcester and Fall River.

Winslow, a native of the heavily Democratic western Massachusetts town of Northampton, spent this past Wednesday night addressing members of the Western Mass Republicans PAC before traveling to Worcester for a second meeting with local GOP officials.

Jay Fleitman, a 2010 congressional candidate and chairman of the Western Mass Republicans, said he was impressed by Winslow, calling the former Romney official “articulate and very obviously bright.”

“Dan was actually talking about how he comes from the western part of the state, and if he swings some of those towns, he could do really well,” Fleitman told RCP. “He really is the type of Republican who wins in Massachusetts.”

Despite Winslow’s past ties with Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee’s former lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, released a statement earlier this week glowing with praise for Gomez. And other prominent Boston area Republicans have quietly been lining up behind the scenes to back the former Navy SEAL.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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