The race to fill Secretary of State John Kerry's former Senate seat has come into focus, with a little more than a month left before the special election.
Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez, a Latino self-made businessman and former Navy SEAL, emerged with a strong résumé but somewhat lacking in the political savvy necessary to give and take the daily political punches of a high-profile campaign.
"He's a newcomer to politics, smart guy and he's got a good story, but unlike Scott Brown he really hasn't been in a campaign before so he's going to struggle with that," says Ray La Raja, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts.
After starting out with high expectations fueled by the 2010 success of Republican Scott Brown, Gomez now trails his opponent, Rep. Ed Markey, who has served in the House since 1976, by 7 percentage points, according to the latest poll.
Markey leads Gomez, 48 percent to 41 percent, according to the Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters released Thursday.
Markey, on the other hand, has played his experienced hand perfectly. While Gomez has been knocked on his heels by controversy surrounding a historical building tax exemption through a program the Internal Revenue Service calls one of its "dirty dozen" top tax scams, Markey has been uniting his liberal base and fundraising.
The Democrat also has been taking a page out of the Elizabeth Warren playbook, by casting Gomez as a vote for the Republican agenda, not an independent voice for Massachusetts. Warren defeated Brown in a 2012 Senate match-up.
"[Markey's] got to tag him as [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell's best friend," La Raja says. "He's also got to convince the voters that experience really does matter and he himself is not just a political hack."
With a condensed campaign schedule due to the special election, La Raja says it's critical for the lesser-known Gomez to flood the airwaves with biographical ads that introduce himself to voters on his own terms, something he hasn't seen happening much yet.
Fred Bayles, a former presidential campaign reporter and journalism professor at Boston University, says so far, Gomez lacks buzz.
"We're running out of time here and Markey's got an impressive machine," he says. "The question now is, because this is a special election, not how many voters you have, but who can get them out. I know the state Democratic Party is not going to let another Scott Brown happen on their watch."
The Brown-Gomez comparison has been a natural for pundits to make, because both were younger Republican candidates with an ability to deliver a fiery populist message and are running as moderates during a shortened special election.
But Susan Milligan, a former Capitol Hill reporter for The Boston Globe who also writes opinion pieces for U.S. News & World Report, says it's akin to comparing apples and oranges.
"Gomez might have very, very briefly had this little possibility of scoring an upset, but the political climate is not there; it's not early 2010 and his inexperience is really showing," she says. "There was this bizarre mystique that built up around Scott Brown's win that made people think Massachusetts was changing, that it wasn't what it used to be, and that's just not true."
The Bay State remains one willing to elect a moderate Republican, Milligan says, but Brown's win was fueled by running against "the worst candidate who's ever run for office" in Martha Coakley during a time when anti-government sentiment was peaking.
But the real story of the race is the fact that despite Gomez's sterling credentials on paper, the national Republicans haven't been throwing him much support, according to Milligan.
"He's exactly what the Republicans on the national level needs to be recruiting to be getting some seats, but yet they're not doing anything for him," she says. "He's Latino, he's for gay marriage, he's a Navy SEAL – but the fact that they weren't doing anything for him indicates they didn't think he has much of a shot anyway."