While panicked Republicans in Florida’s 8th congressional district worry that her third-party candidacy could derail their hopes of unseating combative and colorful freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in November, the TEA Party’s Peg Dunmire — one of the least known but most impressive third-party candidates to emerge in this election cycle — says she’s running to win.
“I’m not a spoiler,” Dunmire stated convincingly in a recent interview with Uncovered Politics. “I’m running to win, to make a real difference in Washington.”
Dunmire categorically rejects the conventional wisdom, repeated over and over again as Republican “talking points,” that her candidacy will help the outspoken Grayson — the pugnacious and outlandishly quotable congressman who welcomed his TEA Party rival into the race a few months ago by describing her as one of Sarah Palin’s “undead minions” — in a three-way race this fall.
Dunmire firmly believes she can defeat Grayson.
“We have been choosing the wrong people to represent us on Capitol Hill,” said the 63-year-old grandmother who explained that she was motivated to run for Congress for the sake of her three-year-old granddaughter. “If we don’t turn this country around, they’re going to be worse off than us,” she said, referring to the $13 trillion national debt.
Massive debt, she says, “is the biggest threat to our freedoms” — and that of future generations. “We have to start living within our means. When my granddaughter and her children look back at us,” she says wistfully, “I don’t want to be remembered as part of the ‘worst generation.’”
That’s a pretty genuine — and movingly powerful — reason to run for Congress, particularly when most people her age would probably be getting ready to settle into a comfortable retirement.
“I want to offer an alternative based on balancing the budget and getting us out of debt,” she told the Lakeland Ledger shortly after announcing that she would be running as a TEA Party — “Taxed Enough Already” —candidate.
“It’s the least I can do for my granddaughter,” she says.
A lifelong Republican before deciding to join the fledgling TEA Party, the “trusted grandma,” as she’s affectionately dubbed by her friends and supporters, has long been active in the tea party movement, attending local rallies and traveling to Washington last year for the widely-publicized September 12 protest.
One of three congressional candidates running on the party’s ticket in Florida, Dunmire had briefly entered the crowded Republican primary in her district — covering parts of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties — but dropped out of the primary because she believed that the GOP, both locally and nationally, had lost its way.
“I think we’ve had about fifteen years of a disconnect with the populace and the people we send to Washington,” she said.
She believed the time was ripe for a new party. “Neither the Democrats or the Republicans are prepared to deal with the structural problems facing our country,” she said. “The American people are ready.”
She knows it’s an uphill battle, but she also knows that elections should be about more than popularity contests.
“Elections are about ideas and competency based on real experience,” explains the former hospital administrator. “That’s what separates me from the typical candidates.”
Experience and qualifications are two things the amiable, articulate, and self-confident TEA Party candidate definitely doesn’t lack.
An IT consultant and former chief financial planner with considerable experience in hospital administration — she served as chief information officer specializing in finance for the world-renowned Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh — Dunmire says she would bring a much-needed perspective to Congress in dealing with the nation’s slumping economy and the all-important issue of health care reform.
She’s ready to roll up her sleeves and get started.
One of her first priorities, she told Uncovered Politics in a recent interview, will be dealing with the nation’s health care crisis. President Obama’s health care legislation isn‘t the solution, she argues, it only makes the problem worse.
“It’s a total sham,” says Dunmire, who holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Pittsburgh — a bill of goods sold to an unwitting public that will actually decrease access to affordable health care while driving up costs substantially.
She maintains that it will also destroy the best health care system in the world.
As a former certified financial planner, the native of western Pennsylvania also wants to keep an eagle eye on the Wall Street bankers and federal regulators who were asleep at the switch during the period leading up to financial meltdown in September 2008, triggering the seemingly never-ending “Great Recession” that tragically threw more than a million Floridians out of work while contributing to a record number of home foreclosures.
While “Grayson’s cult laps up the Kool-Aid spiked with his outrageous lies,” as Dunmire delightfully put it, the TEA Party hopeful believes that a large number of Democrats in the district are quietly experiencing “buyer’s remorse“ and are mortified that the tart-tongued darling of Democratic progressives across the country represents them in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“They’re embarrassed,” she says.
Dunmire believes she can make some inroads among those disaffected Democrats. “They’re stuck, but they won’t vote for a Republican,” she said. On the other hand, she believes they might be willing to support a third-party candidate.
She also feels that her candidacy will have widespread appeal among Republicans in the 8th district, where there are currently seven Republicans fighting it out in the state’s August 24 primary, several of whom are trying to wrap themselves in the tea party mantle.
Dunmire doesn’t expect the self-identified tea party candidates running as Republicans to succeed against the party’s establishment in that crowded, bare-knuckled primary. The GOP, she predicts, will nominate “the same old, same old, and throw the tea party folks under the bus.”
Consequently, she observed, the tea party activists will have no place to go in November.
“My candidacy offers them a choice,” she said.
While Grayson may not yet be worried about his TEA Party opponent, the Republicans are growing increasingly uneasy about her candidacy.
And there‘s plenty of reason to be nervous.
Surrounded by some of the sharpest media and political consultants in the business, Dunmire isn’t quite the political novice that her opponents and some in the Orlando media would like you to believe. She’s not a total stranger to politics.
While in her late twenties, Dunmire was appointed to the school board in Mars, Pennsylvania, a borough located about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh. Two years later, in 1979, she was elected to a four-year term.
She knows what it takes to win an election.
So do her advisers, an experienced and savvy team headed by Doug Guetzloe of Advantage Consultants, a veteran of countless successful Republican campaigns and the founder and chairman of the Orlando-based Ax the Tax organization, a taxpayers group that has successfully led more than a dozen anti-tax initiatives since its founding in 1982, saving Florida taxpayers more than $25 billion.
Guetzloe can hardly contain his glee as Dunmire — a candidate with virtually no name recognition at the outset of the campaign — continues to make strides in this widely-watched race. He was delighted, for example, when an internal poll conducted by Grayson’s campaign last month showed the TEA Party candidate polling over 16 percent of the vote among likely Republican voters.
More recently, Dunmire outpolled all of her rivals, including U.S. Rep. Grayson, in an on-line “People Power Hour” poll conducted by radio station WEUS, a popular progressive/libertarian talk radio program in Orlando. Though hardly scientific, Guetzloe’s third-party candidate received 5,654 votes to Grayson’s 5,073 — a surprising showing against a popular incumbent regardless of the nature of the poll. Republican Daniel Webster, a former state Senate Majority Leader, finished third with 889 votes out of the 12,665 votes cast in the week-long balloting.
While those are hardly scientific examples of Dunmire‘s strength in the district, Guetzloe believes they’re more than a fluke. They signify something much deeper. “This is the year of the political upset and Peg Dunmire exemplifies the type of candidate who can defy all political odds and defeat a well-funded, well-known incumbent,” he said.
Dunmire, who said that she expects to raise between $200,000-$250,000 between now and November — not too shabby for a minor-party candidate — has already raised $43,569, according to her latest FEC quarterly filing, covering the reporting period ending March 31. That included a $10,500 loan from the candidate.
In a year of growing discontent with both major parties, it’s refreshing to know that there are a few third-party candidates out there, seasoned individuals who’re waging professionally-managed campaigns while offering both stability and wisdom to an electorate desperately looking for something different at the ballot box this autumn.
Keep an eye on Peg Dunmire’s candidacy. It could be one of the biggest surprises in a year that promises to be full of them.