Digging in for a potentially bruising primary battle, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto kicked off his 2018 re-election campaign Thursday with a rally at which he called for an election about “respect and dignity… humility and service.”
The call appeared as a response to Tuesday’s news that Soto now faces his predecessor Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in a primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District. Grayson already has shown his fighting form, attacking Soto’s record and commitment to progressive causes.
“People are sick of nasty politics and I plan to rise above it once again,” Soto said, without mentioning Grayson by name. “As First Lady Michelle Obama once famously said, ‘when they go low, we go high.'”
The reference could only be to Grayson, as the only Republican in the field, Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky has largely refrained from attacking Soto, except on policy debates.
In a 12-minute speech in Kissimmee with a handful of supporters beside him, including state Sen. Victor Torres and state Rep. John Cortes, who both represent Kissimmee, Soto laid out some of his positions, efforts, and accomplishments on issues ranging from Puerto Rico relief and recovery to Social Security. Some of the statements sounded, in part, like rebuttals to Grayson’s opening criticisms on Tuesday.
Yet Soto’s speech also was offered as an affirmation of the freshman congressman’s first 16 months in office.
And he pledged a positive campaign and called for a united Democratic party.
“Like in 2016 we face another major Democratic primary,” said Soto, who beat Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson, among other Democrats, in the 2016 primary. “And it has already become nasty. As with back then, I will continue to run a positive and inspiring campaign. We’ll focus on the issues that matter to us as Democrats.”
Soto highlighted his efforts to help with hurricane relief in both Florida and Puerto Rico, and a whole host of progressive policies from supporting labor unions to supporting the gay community, from advocating to reinstate the assault weapons ban to sponsorship of a sexual harassment bill, and from opposing the Republican tax reform bill, to opposing President Donald Trump‘s wall.
In particular, Soto focused on his environmental record, noting he is the only Florida member of Congress with a 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters, saying, “many of you know I am thrilled to lead the charge for the Florida delegation to keep oil drilling off our shores, to protect our waters and beaches, to save the Everglades, and to protect critical wildlife corridors.”
Afterwords, speaking with the press, Soto took issue with one of Grayson’s points of criticism, when the former congressman accused Soto of ignoring the call by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote against a funding bill unless the Republicans agreed to extend the DREAMers Act. Soto maintained that he always has been a strong supporter of that act, and still intends to pursue “a clean bill” providing legal status to young, undocumented immigrants. But he noted that the funding bill he voted for included money for Puerto Rico and Florida hurricane relief. The bill passed.
“Grayson attacked me for that. That’s a key difference. I’m willing to cross the aisle for the betterment of our state, along with half the Democrats, and half the Republicans,” Soto said. “And I stand in favor of Puerto Rico, and he obviously stands against the disaster relief.”
Soto also disputed Grayson’s claim that he has accomplished nothing. Soto offered he was behind numerous bills and amendments that have been approved.
“This is a diverse district. It’s Democratic leaning but not overwhelmingly so. So while I will continue to fight for progressive values, and I got the endorsement of my peers in and in the progressive caucus as a result, it also takes reaching across the aisle to work on issues that matter to the district, like disaster relief, like citrus greening, like protecting our environment,” Soto said. “We passed dozens of amendments.”