Endorsements an Issue in GOP Primary to Challenge Alan Grayson
Around the State
This should have been the best week for Jorge Bonilla’s campaign as he runs for the Republican nomination to take on Alan Grayson in November, but he was hobbled by bringing out -- and then walking back -- conservative endorsements that clashed with the leadership of the Florida GOP.
Bonilla scored a big endorsement from conservative pundit Michelle Malkin this week. In her endorsement, Malkin talked up Bonilla, painting him in far different colors than she did Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Malkin also called out Carol Platt, Bonilla’s main primary rival, who has been endorsed by Bush.
Malkin wrote in her endorsement:
Jorge Bonilla is a friend, longtime blogger, conservative activist, and devoted father of two who is running in Florida’s 9th District. Yep, that’s Looney Tunes Alan Grayson’s district. Bonilla’s main primary competition is a Jeb Bush-backed, soft-on-Common Core Republican with Fed Ed proclivities. Bonilla is the only consistent and clear candidate in the field who opposes amnesty -- and not in a mealy-mouthed Rubio-esque way -- as well as defunding and repealing Common Core. Boot Grayson. Back Bonilla.
Bonilla also got the support of conservative radio host Dana Loesch who also bashed Bush, claiming the former governor’s crowd helped tea party favorite Allen West lose his congressional seat in her endorsement:
I was introduced to Jorge Bonilla by our mutual friend and conservative citizen journalist, Javier Manjarres. Since that time, I've known him to be a devoted family man and stalwart grassroots fighter unafraid to take on Florida's notorious Jeb Bush-dominated establishment. (It's no surprise that the same Bush machine that took out Allen West is floating a primary candidate to stop Bonilla.) We need more fearless, constitutional conservatives in elected office. Please consider Jorge Bonilla as that public servant and send him to take on Alan Grayson in the general.
At first the Bonilla camp heralded the endorsements, sending out a fundraising email on Wednesday quoting them. But then Platt fired back, calling for Bonilla to repudiate Malkin’s and Loesch’s comments about Bush and Rubio.
Bonilla could have been a hero to the right, drawing a line against Bush on Common Core and Rubio on immigration. But instead of crossing the Rubicon, Bonilla started walking away from it when he was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel.
“Bonilla said later he was not personally attacking either Rubio or Bush, and has had disagreements with policies with both, but respects both,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. “He said he is only interested in differentiating himself from policies supported by his opponents.”
No ifs, ands or buts about it: Bonilla blinked. Malkin called Rubio “mealy-mouthed” and Loesch’s labeling of Bush’s leadership of the GOP “notorious” -- pretty personal terms. Bonilla should have said something more along the lines of he didn’t agree with Malkin’s and Loesch’s phrasing but he seriously disagreed with Bush on Common Core and Rubio on immigration. Instead, Bonilla is trying to win points with conservatives by quoting Malkin and Loesch while trying to appease Bush and Rubio. It may end up that Bonilla just upsets both camps as he tries to straddle the two.
Platt tried to turn Bonilla’s stumble to her advantage, using the opportunity to remind voters she has Bush’s support and singing Rubio’s praises. It’s the right card for Platt to play. Even as tea party members and conservatives grumble about Bush and Rubio on Common Core and immigration, they both still poll well with Florida Republicans. Platt’s luck continued on Friday when she got the endorsement of national PAC Maggie’s List which backs fiscal conservatives.
This might seem like a lot of in-fighting to win the primary nomination against Grayson who represents a pretty safe Democrat district. But there’s a method to the madness for Bonilla, Platt and Peter Vivaldi who is behind the other two Republicans. Grayson is a Democrat that Republicans love to hate. Whoever wins the primary can become a factor in the GOP ranks as donors from across the nation throw money at a candidate trying to beat Grayson.
A pretty good example of this is Karen Harrington who took on another Democrat that Republicans loathe in Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Despite getting slaughtered at the polls by Wasserman Schultz in 2010, a great year for Republicans, Harrington raised more than $2 million when she ran again in 2012 and, once again, got blown out. But Harrington has become something of a player, forming a PAC of her own, leaving the door open for future campaigns and generally has to be factored into the various political equations.
Whichever Republican wins the primary on Aug. 26 will have the same chance. Grayson should easily handle any of the three Republicans come November but the GOP nominee will be able to cultivate a large base of contacts and donors. Not a bad payoff for being the sacrificial lamb served to Grayson -- and it explains why Bonilla and Platt are trying so hard to win the primary.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.