Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls used a Tewksbury candidate forum on Saturday as a chance to define themselves and their candidacies.
Former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk) each spoke at the forum, which took place at Town Hall and was sponsored by the Tewksbury Town Republican Committee. The event also served as a tune-up for Tuesday night, when Gomez, Winslow and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan gather in Easton to square off in their first debate.
Sullivan had been scheduled to participate in Saturday's forum but cancelled at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict.
Gomez, 47, is making his first run for office and has enthusiastically taken on the role of "political outsider. In fact, his remarks Saturday indicated something of a disdain for politics in general and Washington politics, in particular.
"People ask me, 'why are you running? Why are you doing this?'" Gomez said. "'You've got a great family. You've got a good reputation. Politics is dirty. It's a nasty game. They're going to smear my good name. And, on top of that, if you win, when you do win, you have to then go down and serve in that cesspool down there.'
"Well, I let them know that I understand all that, and I was a SEAL. I'm a decent swimmer and I can swim (over that) cesspool down in D.C., so I'm not really worried about that part."
Winslow came out guns blazing. But his targets weren't Gomez and Sullivan but rather Congressmen Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, the two Democrats running for the seat formerly held by Sec. of State John Kerry.
"The choice in this election is between what the Democrats are offering us -- fear and finger pointing -- or what we have to offer and that is solutions and success," said Winslow, who added that the impact of the $800 million in sequester cuts has been overblown by Washington Democrats. "They use scare tactics to try and scare the American people, (as if) cutting the budget, reducing the growth of the budget is bad."
Winslow drew cheers when he said that he supported the filibuster this past week by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.
Gomez and Winslow travelled very different paths to arrive at their run for the U.S. Senate. Winslow proudly talked about his experience in all three branches of Massachusetts government, including nearly eight years as a judge, a stint as general counsel to the governor and his current position as state representative, in a seat once held by former Sen. Scott Brown.
"I have extensive experience in problem solving. I have extensive experience in getting things done in government and that's the kind of thing we need down in Washington right now," he said.
Gomez is the son of Columbian immigrants, who earned an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. After his time as a SEAL team leader, Gomez earned an MBA from Harvard and presently works at Advent International, a Boston investment firm.
"At a young age I knew that I wanted to serve and give back to the country that embraced my parents with open arms and gave them the opportunity that they came to America for, not just for themselves but also for their kids."
The candidate forum attracted about 75 voters to Tewksbury Town Hall. The invent also included several candidates running for local offices.