Former ATO National President runs for Congress

Feb 1, 2010

After months of indecision, the owner of a traffic-signal company in Winter Park has given the green light to a run against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken freshman Democrat from Orlando.

Political novice Bruce O’Donoghue, 55, who plans to register his candidacy Monday, said his biggest asset is knowing the ins and outs of Central Florida, and he’s bringing two major Republican endorsements to prove it.

Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez said he plans to back O’Donoghue, who said he’ll also have the endorsement of former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. Martinez is a former county mayor, while Jennings represented the Winter Park area for more than 20 years in the Legislature. Their support could be key in a crowded but little-known Republican primary field that’s itching to take on Grayson, a national GOP target.

“I’ve known them all my life,” said O’Donoghue, who said Martinez coached him as a kid and that Jennings’ father “built the [College Park] church I grew up in.”

Said Martinez: “You want someone to represent you who lives here and knows your community.” He said O’Donoghue’s business background, as president of Control Specialists Co., was crucial.

“Someone who knows business — who has managed a payroll — is in the best position to create jobs,” said Martinez, who quit the Senate last year to join the lobbying and legal firm DLA Piper.

Jennings could not be reached.

Now O’Donoghue has to introduce himself to voters in a district that includes portions of Lake, Marion, Orange and Osceola counties.

A recent poll released by attorney Todd Long, who lost to then-U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, in a 2008 primary, shows that Long is the best-known Republican in a field of at least eight candidates.

The Zogby poll of 519 likely GOP primary voters asked which of five candidates — Long; developer Armando Gutierrez; state Rep. Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala; Tea Party activist Patricia Sullivan; and O’Donoghue — they would back if the election were held today.

Long was favored by almost 23 percent of those surveyed, while Kelly claimed 13 percent and Sullivan 4.6 percent. Gutierrez and O’Donoghue trailed with less than 3 percent each. However, nearly 47 percent were undecided; the margin of error was 4.5 percentage points.

But even if O’Donoghue survives the primary, he’ll face a well-funded Grayson in the general election.

In the last three months of 2009, Grayson raised about $850,000 and enters the year with about $1 million, according to his campaign. Much of that money came from online backers who agree with Grayson’s combative tone on health care, including his assertion that the Republican reform plan was for sick patients to “die quickly.”

O’Donoghue has pledged to pump his own money into the race, although it’s expected that Grayson — whose personal wealth was estimated last year at more than $31 million — could match him dollar for dollar.

And his late entry puts O’Donoghue behind several GOP candidates who have been campaigning for months, including Gutierrez, a developer and South Florida transplant who reportedly raised about $200,000 to close the year. Gutierrez also kicked in about $100,000 of his own money.

But O’Donoghue said he could quickly make an impression by portraying himself as a “guy who grew up right here in Orange County.”

He said he’ll tout a broad “common sense” platform that calls for reducing government spending and controlling health care without major interference from Washington. He said he wants to make it easier for companies to band together into groups that could then buy health-care coverage for their employees for less than they pay now.

“There’s lots that can be done without bankrupting the country 10 years from now,” he said.


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