By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A second Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate reported on Tuesday that he had collected enough signatures for a spot in the race to vie for the seat previously held by John Kerry, setting the stage for two competitive party primaries in April.
Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and private equity executive, said his campaign had gathered 25,000 signatures of registered voters, exceeding the 10,000 names required by state law and matching the total claimed by rival Republican Dan Winslow, a state representative.
"Our campaign against crushing debt (and) gridlock starts Thursday," Gomez said via his Twitter feed.
The signature requirement was seen as a higher hurdle for Winslow and Gomez, a political newcomer, than for Democratic contenders Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, two U.S. congressmen with large existing campaign organizations.
All four candidates, as well as former Boston U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, a Republican, face a Wednesday deadline to submit 10,000 signatures of registered voters to win a place on the ballot in the April 30 primary.
The special election to fill the seat that came open when John Kerry was named secretary of state has been scheduled for June 25.
Markey and Lynch have called on all candidates in the race to sign a "People's Pledge" that would have candidates reject third-party advertisements and mailings in support of their campaigns.
Outside-funded ads, often used to attack rival candidates, have become a major force in U.S. elections and of particular concern in races like the upcoming Massachusetts race, which falls outside the normal November voting cycle.
Both candidates in last year's Massachusetts Senate election, in which Democrat Elizabeth Warren ousted incumbent Republican Scott Brown, agreed to reject outside ads.
So far in this race, Republican Winslow has refused to sign the pledge, saying he had no reason to reject outside support - and noting that both Markey and Lynch already had well-funded campaign machines. Gomez so far has not made a decision on whether to abide by the pledge, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
Republicans currently hold 45 seats in the U.S. Senate.
Following Kerry's appointment to the Cabinet, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, appointed his former chief of staff, William Cowan, to the seat until a successor is picked. Cowan said he would not run in the special election.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Von Ahn)