"Game-changer" Hannity launches GOP candidate's career with promises of fundraising and promotions

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In late March, former talk radio host John Gomez was selected by local party officials as the Republican nominee for New York's 2nd congressional district. Gomez, Newsday wrote on March 7, "has never been active in local politics, only registered as a Republican six weeks ago and has not raised a nickel for a political campaign."

So how did a campaign neophyte convince Long Island politicos that he was the right person to challenge veteran Democratic Rep. Steve Israel? Gomez has a not-so-secret weapon: Fox News host Sean Hannity, who reportedly promised local leaders that he'd help Gomez by promoting and fundraising for him. This past Saturday, Hannity forwarded a message to his radio show email list urging people to donate to Gomez's campaign.

Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle reportedly said that "anytime someone with Sean Hannity's stature vouches for your credibility, it's very significant" and can "absolutely be a game-changer"; Suffolk Conservative Party chairman Ed Walsh reportedly said Hannity "would be active ... and Sean being maybe the biggest conservative on TV and radio (would help)."

Local party officials have not returned requests for comment to clarify if Hannity specifically promised officials that he'd use Fox News resources to promote Gomez if he won the nomination.

In April, following criticism, Fox News executives pulled Hannity from broadcasting his TV program at a tea party event in Cincinnati that charged admission. Hannity repeatedly promoted the tea party event on Fox News. Hannity has also done fundraisers for John Kasich's gubernatorial campaign, Rudy Giuliani and the National Republican Congressional Committee. In 2006, Hannity urged his radio audience to donate to Senate candidate Jeanine Pirro (R-NY).

On March 7, before the nominee selection, Newsday reported that Gomez is "among the GOP front-runners to take on five-term Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) because" of Hannity. Newsday reported that the Fox News host assured GOP leaders that he would "do all he could" to promote Gomez, help him fundraise and bring in headliners for events:

"When he first mentioned it, I thought he was name-dropping," said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman. "But anytime someone with Sean Hannity's stature vouches for your credibility, it's very significant." Hannity's role, LaValle added, could "absolutely be a game-changer."

Gomez wowed Suffolk GOP leaders by bringing in Hannity for a meeting two weeks ago and another with county Conservative chairman Edward Walsh. GOP sources say Hannity touted his boyhood friend as a conservative who can win, vowing "to do all he could" to promote Gomez, help fundraise and bring in headliners for events. Hannity last week even tried to coax an on-air endorsement from Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). Hannity declined to comment.

The ties between the men go back to third grade at Sacred Heart School in Hempstead and later St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary. They were in each other's wedding parties. Gomez even bought Hannity's house when he moved out of Bayport.

The New York Post -- which, like Fox News, is owned by News. Corp -- similarly reported that Hannity "sat down for two hours with his pal John Gomez, a Long Island local and his childhood pal, and Suffolk Conservative Party chairman Ed Walsh" in February and "pledged to be involved and help raise money for Gomez." The Post added that Walsh believes Hannity's support and media platform could help Gomez win the race:

Walsh confirmed the meeting and praised Gomez, saying, "We just had a big conversation in terms of this guy running. Sean would be active...and Sean being maybe the biggest conservative on TV and radio (would help)."

"This race could be won, absolutely," said Walsh, adding that he believed the combination of Gomez and Hannity could help bring in people from the Tea Party movement.

In late March, Gomez was selected as the nominee by the local Republican Party. An April 13 Newsday article reported that party officials claim "it was Gomez's ability to communicate, not his connections [to Hannity], that gave him the edge." National Journal reported on May 4 that the Suffolk Conservative Party officially "endorsed Hannity friend/ex-talk-radio host John Gomez."

Hannity's boosterism reportedly angered Gomez's opponents and tea partiers. Tea Party organizer Steve Labate and business owner Sal Ferro -- who both vied for the nomination -- criticized Hannity's involvement in a Newsday article:

"I think it's very unfortunate that Sean Hannity would inject himself into the screening process," said Labate, who describes himself as a fan. "National exposure will not put boots on the ground ... It will backfire on Gomez because people don't like that." Ferro agreed: "I have a lot of respect for Sean Hannity ... but Republican leaders should be making the decision, not a radio host."

Newsday later reported that "when Hannity's role angered tea party people, the pundit personally phoned Steve Flanagan, head of Conservative Society for Action, and Labate to apologize for intruding. Now Labate has urged backers to direct their angst at those 'who made the decision,' not Hannity."

The Long Island-based newspaper also noted a few months ago that Hannity pitched Gomez on his radio program:

Yet Hannity has already begun pitching his pal on radio. "Are you going to support him for his run?" he asked [Rep. Peter] King [R-NY] last week. King called Gomez "a very good guy," but parried because he didn't want to pre-empt the GOP screening process.

"Why are you equivocating?" Hannity quipped. "I've been best friends with the guy since third grade." King jibed back: "The only thing I have against him is that he's a close friend of yours. That makes me worry.

In recent days, Hannity has used his resources to promote Gomez. Last Saturday, Hannity forwarded a message to his radio show subscriber list from radio host Mark Levin asking readers to donate to Gomez's campaign. The message included a large "DONATE NOW" button that directs to Gomez's campaign site. Hannity also promoted Levin's message on his Twitter feed.

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Sean Hannity
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