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Guns, Trump, Party Loyalty: Key Issues for Dems in Florida’s Fifth District Primary

A congressman who is the only member of the Florida Democratic Congressional Caucus who may have taken money from the NRA and the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to applaud President Trump during the State of the Union address is accused of being a DINO by a fellow Democrat.

Well, it takes one to know one, right?

Folio, a weekly magazine that bills itself as “N.E. Florida’s Independent Voice,” wrote that the Democratic primary battle between incumbent Rep. Al Lawson (D) and Alvin Brown (D) should take place in “Jurassic Park” rather than the state’s Fifth Congressional District “since it’s a clash between two DINOs.”

Brown, who was the mayor of Jacksonville, Fla., when Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old black teenager, was shot to death in a confrontation with a 47-year-old white man who complained the teen was playing his music too loud, has accused Lawson of taking $2,500 in “blood money” from the NRA.

“It is shameful that my opponent talks out of both sides of his mouth in an effort to score political points as families mourn the loss of their children. Unlike Al Lawson, who hypocritically takes blood money from the NRA,” Brown said in a statement, “I will never accept campaign contributions from the gun lobby. If Lawson wants any credibility on this issue, he must return the money he took from the NRA immediately.”

Lawson, who served 28 years in the Florida House and Senate before being elected to Congress in 2016, told Florida Politics the charge that he took money from the NRA was a lie.

“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson said.

“Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career,” Lawson added.

But whether or not Lawson took money from the NRA, his track record on guns has not been in sync with other members of his party.

For instance, Lawson said in 1993 that he had a “drastic” proposal. He thought it would be a good idea if every household in Florida had at least one gun.

As a state representative, he proposed legislation that would not only ask every household in Florida to have a firearm in the closet; Lawson’s bill would have required a gun in every home.

To Lawson, it seemed obvious: if the bad guys knew they would face a good guy with a weapon, they would never break into a Florida home.

''It absolutely will work,'' Lawson told the Orlando Sentinel. ''I grew up in the country. Every household had a weapon. You didn't have a problem with break-ins.’'

Being this is a Democratic primary, the issue of party loyalty is key. Lawson’s supporters say Brown has been tied too closely to the GOP.

The Florida Times-Union reported Republican fundraiser Peter Rummell backed Brown’s campaign for mayor of Jacksonville in 2011, as did several other high-profile GOP contributors.

In his campaign, Brown described himself as a conservative Democrat who didn’t get involved in partisan politics. But other Dems were visibly displeased when he pledged to work with Republican Gov. Rick Scott and failed to show up at a 2012 Obama campaign rally.

Brown lost his 2015 re-election bid to former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry, who was backed by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Yet Al Letson, a Jacksonville NPR show host, has come out against Brown’s candidacy -- not because of guns and the NRA, but because of the former mayor’s performance in office and his ties to the GOP.

“For example: let’s say you are the first black mayor of a large southern city… all these hopes and dreams are pinned to you,” Letson tweeted, “but you won’t stand for anything cause rich republicans put you in power… (American politics makes for strange bedfellows). All those hopes and dreams just flap in the wind.”

However, Brown accused Rep. Lawson of being the real DINO in a TV ad. It showed the congressman applauding during the 2018 State of the Union, while he is described as Trump’s “favorite Democrat.”

Lawson told the Tampa Bay Times that his applause had nothing to do with the Trump administration. The Democrat said he was acknowledging the president’s comment that African-American unemployment was at a historic low.

That explanation, as evidenced by his TV ad, was not good enough for Brown.

“The people of the 5th District deserve a leader who will condemn and stand up to Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on our community – not applaud him and his hate-fueled rhetoric,” Brown said.

Lawson’s fundraising numbers at the end of 2017 were far from spectacular, or what one might expect from even a first-term incumbent congressman.

Yet Florida Politics columnist A.G. Gancarski reported Brown may not do much better because at the end of the campaign, politics is all about what have you done for the constituents lately, and often the congressman you know is better than the one you don’t.

“It is by no means a sure thing that the Jacksonville business community will back Brown,” Gancarski wrote, “given that there is a comfort level with local stakeholders with how Lawson has fought for Jacksonville interests in Congress.”