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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Republican rivals spar over whether babies are a distraction

Republican statehouse candidate Steve Vernon sent out this mailer taking issue with his Republican primary opponent Joe Gruters. The two are running for Florida House District 73 in the Aug. 30 primary.

Steve Vernon campaign

Republican statehouse candidate Steve Vernon sent out this mailer taking issue with his Republican primary opponent Joe Gruters. The two are running for Florida House District 73 in the Aug. 30 primary.

19

August

You know a race for office has taken a nasty turn when one of the candidates has to assert: “I don’t hate kids.”

That is exactly what Manatee County Republican and longtime Tea Party activist Steve Vernon is left saying after pushback over a mailer he sent out last week. In it, which Vernon now says he wishes would have been worded differently, he insists he was simply trying to point out that his opponent Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters is “overcommitted” in his life and that could be a problem if he’s trying to represent Sarasota and Manatee counties in the Florida Legislature.

But the way it came out in the bullet point was like this:

 “Will have a new business, multiple political appointments and two volunteer positions of authority with the Republican Party, and is the father of three babies that will distract him from representing his district.”

That last section about three babies stunned Gruters. In politics, he said, there are a lot of things considered fair game, but bringing a person’s family into a political ad should never be one of them.

“He crossed a line when he says my kids are a distraction and a liability,” said Gruters, who has three children all under the age of 5. “That’s crazy. They are the reason I’m running. They are my motivation.”

Vernon’s mailer has also prompted Gruter’s wife, Sydney Gruters, to pen a letter that went out to voters over the last two days sharply taking issue with Vernon’s mailer.

“No child should ever be labeled a distraction,” Sydney Gruters wrote in the mailer. “This is disgusting. Children are the greatest blessing and I feel sorry for any person that would believe otherwise.”

Vernon said he’s seen the letter and repeated that is not what he was trying to say. He said he’s getting all kinds of angry calls and emails from people accusing him of being against families and fathers.

“I don’t hate kids,” Vernon said. “I wasn’t attacking him for being a father.”

Vernon himself is a father of two and has grandchildren.

The back and forth is coming in one of the most competitive Republican primary contests in the state for a Florida House seat. Vernon, a longtime Tea Party activist, and Gruters, the longtime Sarasota Republican Party chairman who is also the co-chair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida, are battling for Florida House District 73 includes eastern Manatee and Sarasota counties.

[Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2016 12:55pm]

    

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