Massachusetts Senate Race: National Stakes, Worries for Both Sides

"He's in a very similar situation that Scott Brown was in," said Ron Bonjean, a veteran GOP strategist who is not working for Gomez. "He's a good candidate for Republicans. What there hasn't been is enough buzz to drive a Republican donor base to flood the state with cash. They're nervous about what happened in 2012, where a lot of Republican donors and Super PACs spent money on candidates that lost. They're still smarting from it."

Gomez is far from a perfect candidate. His temperament on the stump was called into question with his comparison of Markey to "pond scum" for running an ad that pictured Gomez as well as Osama bin Laden. (The ad hit Gomez for his association with a group that attacked President Obama for politicizing bin Laden's death.)

Gomez, moreover, has cast himself as a moderate independent voice, with a vow to be a "pain in the butt" to national Republicans. Back in January, when Gov. Deval Patrick was set to fill Kerry's old seat temporarily, Gomez made a private plea to Patrick that included a pledge to "support the positions that President Obama has taken" on gun control and immigration reform.

One Republican strategist who's been tracking the race said that outside donors have been watching it closely for signs that it's winnable. But they haven't yet seen polling to suggest that Gomez is in realistic striking distance in the heavily Democratic state. Much of the publicly released polling has had the margin in the low double-digits.

Plus, the strategist said, there's little appetite to throw money around carelessly, particularly in light of the flawed 2012 polling that suggested a big night for Republicans.

Yet, to the view of many in the party, the chance of a Republican Senate pickup is too tempting to ignore. There won't be too many opportunities like this, surely not in states as blue as Massachusetts, they argue.

"Regret is a hell of a lot more expensive than risk," said Todd, the Gomez campaign strategist. "And if Gabriel Gomez loses, there's going to a whole lot of regret."

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