Miami Herald: S. Fla. Republican to seek Orlando House seat

Oct 15, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on October 15, 2009

Armando Gutierrez Jr., who voted in Coral Gables in April, plans to challenge a controversial Democrat in Central Florida.


Republicans eager to unseat a brash Orlando Democrat who said their party’s healthcare plan amounts to hoping people “die quickly” have so far been unsuccessful in finding a candidate.

But now comes a willing Republican — all the way from South Florida.

Armando Gutierrez Jr., son of one of Miami’s best-known political consultants and a member of local civic boards, voted in the city of Coral Gables as recently as April.

But he says he’s the right person to take on Rep. Alan Grayson, who likes to call Republicans “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and has become one of the party’s top targets in 2010.

Gutierrez, a 28-year-old real estate developer and Republican Party fundraiser, said he has already lined up endorsements from three Central Florida Republicans: U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and state Reps. Chris Dorworth and Bryan Nelson.

At least three Orlando Republicans have declined to run against Grayson, who has millions of dollars of his own to spend on the race and is emerging as a rock star in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Even some Republican strategists say Gutierrez is a long shot.

“The fact that Republicans have to import their candidate from 300 miles away shows how strong Congressman Grayson is,” said Eric Jotkoff, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.

Gutierrez says he has been doing business in Central Florida for six years and started renting in downtown Orlando earlier this year. State law does not require congressional candidates to live in the district. He registered to vote in Orange County on Sept. 11, his birthday.

“The most important thing is that I’ve been in Florida for 28 years, a lot longer than Alan Grayson has,” Gutierrez said of the Bronx native. “I know more about Central Florida than he does. How much has he invested in Central Florida?”

Gutierrez said he owns seven commercial and retail properties in the Lakeland area.

Grayson’s chief of staff, Julie Tagen, said the congressman “is delivering progress to Central Florida. He is working hard and getting things done.”

Until last month, Gutierrez was registered to vote in Coral Gables. He last voted in the April 14 city election. Jeff Garcia, a Democratic political consultant who ran Raul Martinez’s congressional campaign, lives around the corner. “He was my neighbor. This is the biggest joke I ever heard,’ Garcia said. “Who does this guy think he is? This would redefine carpetbagging.”

Gutierrez is the son of one of Miami’s best known political consultants, Armando Gutierrez, and — like his father — has planted roots in many parts of the community. He was a trustee of the governing board of Jackson Memorial Hospital, a board member of the Miami-Dade County General Obligation Bond and a vice chairman of the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board.

He is also a member of the Republican National Committee’s Young Eagles, a group of 35-and-under donors. He has raised money for Florida U.S. Reps. Adam Putnam, Vern Buchanan and Tom Rooney, among others.

A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said the party is confident it will field a viable candidate to take back the seat Grayson won in 2008, defeating Republican Rep. Ric Keller.

“In any other district we might be concerned, but in this district we truly believe we will have a formidable candidate in the race,” said Andy Sere, adding that Grayson’s most recent remarks have enraged “legions of conservative donors out there.”