Gabriel Gomez’s Hidden Hispanic Vote

How much of Gomez's inroads with Hispanic voters will be undone by President Obama's visit for Ed Markey?

Ed Markey today is trotting California congressman Xavier Becerra through the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Hacienda Don Juan in Worcester, and Medina’s Supermarket in Springfield. It’s about time, say a number of Massachusetts Democrats, who are telling me that it’s well past time that the campaign started stepping up efforts to counter the Gomez Hispanic outreach.

Gabriel Gomez’s frequent self-introductions en Español and references to his Colombian-immigrant parents are not just a cute way of signalling to independent voters that he is not one of those harsh, old-white-guy Republicans. Although Massachusetts Hispanics have been voting and identifying strongly as Democrats, the Gomez campaign has been targeting them through campaign stops, house parties (sometimes with the candidate himself, often with surrogates), and Spanish-language interviews. At his second public appearance as a US Senate candidate, in Shrewsbury in late February, Gomez put off the hungry press corps, myself included, until after he gave an extended one-on-one interview to the local Univision reporter.

On a purely anecdotal and gut-feeling level, several Hispanic Bay Staters I’ve spoken with think it’s working—particularly among professional-class second- and third-generation citizens, who see Gomez as one of their own, and to a lesser extent the working-class urbanites who see in him an aspirational figure for their children.

And some Democratic insiders suspect that Gomez’s Hispanic support might not be showing up in polls. Hispanic voters, who have increased their participation in the state in recent big elections—particularly for President Barack Obama—are assumed to vote in small numbers in a relatively low-key special election. But, previous special elections have not included a candidate with a Hispanic surname.

To be sure, the Markey campaign has been doing the usual work of outreach, an effort headed up by Amaad Rivera of Springfield. But it’s a bit of a Catch-22: additional efforts would increase awareness of the election in Hispanic communities, which might increase the turnout for voters who will vote disproportionately for Gomez. (Note that Markey and other area Democrats didn’t try to make hay out of congressional Republicans voting yesterday in favor of deporting young immigrants intended for protection under Obama’s executive order and “DREAM Act” legislation.)

From what I hear, some labor unions with significant Hispanic membership might start some targeted efforts to help the campaign. And the Becerra visit is likely to be the start of a stepped-up effort by the Markey campaign.

But the real secret weapon for Markey could be Obama himself, who comes to Boston on Markey’s behalf next week. The president enjoys enormous popularity among Hispanics—83 percent favorability according to a March ABC News/Washington Post poll. We’ll see how much of Gomez’s inroads get undone by Obama’s arrival.