It’s probably never been very easy to be a conservative or Republican in Massachusetts, but as things look like they’re slipping away just two days before a key deadline in a once winnable special Senate election, it has to be extra frustrating.
Potential candidates have until Wednesday to collect 10,000 signatures, leaving little hope of expanding the narrow Republican field after a slew of potential candidates have withdrawn or declined to run for the seat vacated by new Secretary of State John Kerry.
“It's hard to find anyone that we can support,” lamented Carlos Hernandez, the state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots.
The biggest setback for Republicans came at the beginning of the month when former Sen. Scott Brown declined to run, dashing the GOP’s best hopes for taking the seat. It wasn’t as bad for Tea Party activists. Even though the conservative movement helped get Brown’s campaign off the ground in 2010, with Tea Party Express alone spending almost $350,000 on his behalf, he’s fallen out of favor for his moderate votes in the Senate.
But on top of Brown came more abstentions: From former Gov. Bill Weld and former state Sen. Richard Tisei, to ex-Lt. Govs. Kerry Healey and Jane Swift, former state Treasurer Joe Malone, and Mitt Romney’s son Tagg, people were beginning to wonder if Republicans could find a candidate at all.
Tea Party groups had their eye on Sean Bielat, a former Marine who gave Democratic Rep. Barney Frank a run for his money in 2010 and ran again in 2012, but their hopes were soon dashed when Bielat appeared to enter and then withdraw from the race, all in the same day.
Former Tea Party Express coordinator Joe Wierzbicki, who is now the executive director of the Conservative Campaign Committee PAC, said his team “scrambled” into action on Valentine's Day when Bielat made the move, setting up the legal framework to spend on the candidate’s behalf, emailing their members, and preparing to cut a check.
”AND ... Literally 4 minutes later as I was distributing our press release announcing our endorsement of him, we saw the story in the Boston Globe that he has just announced he is NOT running after all,” Wierzbicki said in an email to Salon. Bielat later apologized for the confusion.
Wierzbicki’s next choice is former U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, who has said he’s interested in a run, but can’t pay people to gather the necessary 10,000 signatures, raising doubts about his viability.
“You can understand that we want to make sure we don't go through a drill like THAT again, so we'll want to see some commitment by Sullivan and evidence he will be able to collect the requisite number of signatures by February 27th to qualify for the ballot,” Wierzbicki explained.
Other Tea Party leaders wanted Fox News psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, who said he would run if there were no primary challenge. “He said that he’d get in if Scott Brown wasn’t in, and Scott Brown’s not in, and I’m shocked that he’s not in,” Hernandez said.
That leaves the two candidates who are expected to get the 10,000 signatures to make the ballot. There’s Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and private equity investor in Boston who has been hiding from the press since announcing his intentions to run in a YouTube video.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Dan Winslow is also running and said yesterday that he had collected “nearly 25,000” signatures, more than double the amount needed to secure a spot in the April 30 primary.
But Tea Party groups haven’t been fired up about either candidate. “I mean, I’m assuming right now that this is all we’re going to get and I don’t even know what these candidates stand for,” Hernandez told Salon.
He said Tea Party activists will grudgingly support whoever emerges as the Republican nominee if it will help flip control of the Senate away from Harry Reid, but that he and fellow activists feel a bit used by the GOP.
No matter who wins the GOP primary, it will probably be an uphill climb against presumed Democratic nominee Rep. Ed Markey in the June 25 general election.
“I think it’s close to a lost cause,” Massachusetts Republican strategist Rob Gray told the Washington Post a few weeks ago. “Most people, including the ‘B’ tier of candidates, felt that [former Sen. Scott] Brown had a chance to win the special, but no other Republican probably did.”
And Democrats insist they are ready, saying they won’t make the same mistakes they did in 2010.