QUINCY, Mass. (AP) — Gabriel Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, formally launched on Thursday his bid for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John Kerry, positioning him as a Washington outsider and "new kind of Republican" who defies political labels.
The 47-year-old son of Colombian immigrants made his official announcement at an American Legion's Hall in Quincy, and planned later stops in the central and western parts of the state. The Cohasset resident also took his first questions from reporters — after being kept away from the media by his campaign since releasing a video two weeks ago stating his intention to run.
Gomez said he favored term limits for Congress and a lifetime ban on lobbying by all former House and Senate members. Asked about the $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect Friday, he said no politicians in Washington should get paid until they resolve the fiscal stalemate.
"I may not be the most popular guy in D.C. when I say this, but until they figure out what they are going to do on the sequester, I don't think any congressmen or the senators or the president should have a paycheck," he said.
"And that includes Congressmen Markey and Lynch," he added, referring to U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, the two Democrats running for the Senate seat.
Gomez, Norfolk state Rep. Daniel Winslow and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan all say they've collected enough signatures to get on the April 30 Republican primary ballot.
The special election to replace Kerry, who resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State, is June 25.
While state GOP officials have pledged neutrality in the race, Gomez has the support of at least one high-profile Massachusetts Republican.
Kerry Healey, who served as lieutenant governor in former Gov. Mitt Romney's administration, appeared at Thursday's campaign launch and said Gomez was a new face in the party who could excite voters in the way that former Sen. Scott Brown did in his upset victory in the 2010 special election to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
"I see a lot of parallels between his candidacy and Scott Brown's," said Healey, who added that she has great respect for Winslow and Sullivan.
On social issues, Gomez said gays should have the right to marry and that while he opposed abortion he did not advocate overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
"I was raised Catholic and by faith I am pro-life. But this is a very contentious issue, I understand that. I'm not going down to D.C. to change the law," he said.
Noting his own family story — his parents emigrated from Colombia a year before he was born and he learned Spanish before English — Gomez said he had a "personal stake" in the immigration debate. He said he backed a bipartisan plan recently offered by eight U.S. senators that would offer a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants while also toughening border security.
Gomez rejected attempts to label him politically.
"Sure, I'm running as a Republican, but I'm a new kind of Republican," he said in his speech. "Obviously as a Republican I hold some conservative views . but I'm an independent thinker, and I have no interest in going to Washington to engage in partisan trench warfare."
Like the president, he said members of Congress should be subject to term limits but did not offer any specifics. A campaign aide later told reporters that Gomez would pledge to serve no more than two full terms in the Senate.
Gomez donated to President Barack Obama's first campaign in 2008 but supported Romney last year. Democrats have criticized him for his association with a group that released a controversial video that accused Obama of taking too much credit for the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin-Laden.
Gomez, who left the Navy in 1996, has in the past credited Obama for giving the green light for the raid, but criticized the president for using it as a talking point in his reelection campaign.
Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh faulted Gomez for offering "fluffy, esoteric proposals" like term limits instead of taking about real issues like anti-gun trafficking laws.
Walsh also criticized all three of the GOP candidates for advocating a "cuts-only" approach to avoiding the "sequester" that would not include some tax increases on the wealthy.
"Are we going to send someone to Washington who essentially cancels out Elizabeth Warren's votes?" Walsh said, referring to the Democratic senator who defeated Brown last year.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.