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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The Hispanic Republican who thinks he can defeat Alan Grayson



WASHINGTON - Jorge Bonilla’s phone lit up with messages when he got off the plane from Orlando. Rep. Alan Grayson, the Democrat Bonilla wants to defeat, had just sent out a fundraising letter comparing the tea party to the KKK and people wanted Bonilla’s reaction.

Grayson attracts attention. Bonilla is trying to get some, too, making a visit to Washington to meet with reporters.

It goes without saying that Bonilla is facing a big-name, provocative opponent who will be difficult to defeat. But the court interpreter thinks he can pull it off. “There’s fertile ground to work. We just have to be wise about our resources,” he said in a recent interview at a Mexican restaurant near the U.S. Capitol.

Bonilla is not the only Republican in the race and the winner of the primary has to contend with a district that is heavily Democratic, not to mention Grayson’s fundraising ability.

“There are a lot of soft Ds,” Bonilla said, meaning Democrats who might be inclined to vote for another party. Bonilla is Puerto Rican and his campaign thinks that might give him an edge in a district with a lot of Hispanics.

“It’s going to be a heavy ground game,” said Bonilla, who sat for an interview with his strategist, Anthony Bustamante, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2010 campaign.

Asked if he considered himself a tea party aligned candidate,  Bonilla gave a Rubio-like response that the tea party is a movement, not a party.

“I consider myself an independent conservative. I am fiscally and socially conservative but I don’t hew to any particular ideological line,” Bonilla said. ”At the end of day tea party is nothing more than people who are fed up” with the way government is operating.

He said he would have voted against the debt deal that ended the government shutdown. “I just don’t think it went far enough to address the debt. It didn’t go far enough to address some of these deep structural problems.”

He also sounded Rubio like in dismissing concern, from establishment Republicans such as Jeb Bush, that the defund Obamacare strategy was unwise and would only hurt the GOP brand.

“Sometimes leadership means that you do stuff and don’t look at polls. You have to act on conviction.”

But on immigration, Bonilla differs with Rubio’s work on a comprehensive bill.

“We should first work on the border. The reason we do this is not to jam up some poor guy who wants to come and pick produce and feed his family. It’s because we have al Qaeda on the border (PolitiFact Texas rated his claim false). We have Hezbollah. We have cartels. We have human trafficking. Sex trafficking.”

Bonilla said he would support a path to legalization, not citizenship, but only after the border is secured. “The only people for whom I would support immediate citizenship are those who have put on our uniform.”

What about Dreamers? He said that would have to be case-by-case, asserting that some Dreamers should not fit the qualifications due to age or other factors.

“There are many areas between Sen. Rubio and myself,” Bonilla said. “(Immigration) just happens to not be one of them. We still hold him in the highest regard.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 8:11pm]


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