A super PAC is attacking a candidate as “unhinged” and “not fit” for federal office and is going after his business record. In another group's ad, a Vietnam veteran says the candidate’s behavior “sickens him.”
The candidate in question isn’t Donald Trump. He’s Democrat Randy Perkins, who’s running in Florida's 18th District, one of this year’s most competitive House races.
Perkins made headlines last month when he told Republican opponent Brian Mast in an editorial board meeting with the Treasure Coast Newspapers that he wasn’t “man enough to stand behind [his] own ads.”
Mast is a double amputee who lost both legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan. The Army veteran received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Republicans have been attacking Perkins’ business record, trying to question his temperament and character in a way that’s reminiscent of Democratic attacks on Trump, the GOP presidential nominee.
The Congressional Leadership Fund launched its first TV attack on Perkins this week as part of a $2.1 million independent expenditure campaign in the district.
“They’re being meanies,” Perkins said in an interview this week about the Republicans attacking him. “And the problem is I know so many of them.”
He has a history of donating to Republicans (for business reasons, he says), and joked about asking them to return his donations now that he’s under attack. Perkins didn’t register as a Democrat until filing for this race, and he served on an advisory panel for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign.
A Democratic Donald?
Even some Democrats compare him to Trump.
Perkins’ behavior during the editorial board meeting was one of the “worst displays” in recent American politics, said a Democratic strategist who works in Florida politics and volunteered the Trump comparison.
“Were they saying that in a good way or bad way?” Perkins asked when told of the comparison.
“We are two different people, I can assure you that,” he said of Trump. “But he’s clearly tapped into something in this country.”
“My temperament is exactly where it needs to be,” Perkins said. “I’m angry and I’m frustrated,” he added, referring to GOP attacks that he said distort his record.
Before the editorial board meeting, Perkins’ lawyers threatened to sue local TV stations that didn’t pull National Republican Congressional Committee ads accusing Perkins’ disaster recovery business of “scamming” a local school district. Some stations pulled the ads and the NRCC revised some of its wording.
“What I’ve asked Brian to do is take ownership of the ads that the Republican Party and outside groups are running against me,” Perkins said. By law, Mast cannot coordinate with the NRCC or tell the committee what to do.
There’s a backstory to the editorial board exchange, Perkins said. Several days after Florida’s Aug. 30 primary, he called Mast to suggest they keep outside groups out of the race.
“I’ve told them from Day One to stay out of this race,” Perkins said about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which backed him in the primary. Perkins received donations from top House leaders like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra.
But Perkins doesn’t need financial help. In fact, he received no contributions during the pre-primary reporting period. He’s almost entirely self-funding his campaign.
If Mast agreed to his proposal to limit outside groups’ attacks, Perkins said he promised to spend only what Mast was able to raise.
Asked about the proposal on Wednesday, Mast said he immediately distrusted Perkins, who has since run negative hits against him.
As for Perkins’ comments during the editorial meeting, Mast said, “You know, look, I’m a big boy. You’re not going to ruffle my feathers, but I would certainly say it was distasteful.”
Perkins says he values Mast’s service. “I salute him and he’s a hero in my book, but we have a race to run,” the Democrat said.
Strengths and weaknesses
National Democrats knew much of what they were getting when they rallied behind Perkins before the primary.
An April DCCC memo leaked in this summer’s cyberattack outlined Perkins’ strengths: his “rags to riches story” and his experience contributing to and working with Republicans would play well in a general election.
But the DCCC also called attention to his weaknesses, namely his past business dealings and his campaign’s tendency to make “sometimes erratic decisions.”
The memo, written well before the Aug. 30 primary, specifically warned that Perkins could be in for a tough race if Mast won the GOP nomination.
“He will be vulnerable to character attacks and will likely see a lot of outside spending,” the DCCC said of Perkins.
Mast has endorsed Trump but paints himself as a moderate Republican who will not join the Freedom Caucus and believes in man-made climate change.
He said he’s received vocal support from some northeastern congressional Democrats who have said they look forward to working with him. Mast did not feel comfortable specifying names because he feared hurting those members with their own party.
Hurricane Matthew postponed the first televised debate between Mast and Perkins. They will now meet on Oct. 17.