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U.S. Senate Candidates Take Aim at 'Washington Dysfunction'

Eyes on the Prize

Facing low name recognition and a largely unshaped race, the five front-runners for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat introduced themselves to reporters and editors in Tallahassee on Wednesday by arguing that they could actually get things done in a dysfunctional Washington, D.C.

Speaking at an annual Associated Press media gathering at the Florida Capitol, four sitting congressman and the state's lieutenant governor began distinguishing themselves even as much of the political world's focus remains on presidential primaries in both parties.

Some of the sharpest contrasts came between Democratic Congressmen Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy, who are vying for their party's nomination to the Senate seat being vacated by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

"I would say the biggest difference between us is style, first and foremost," said Murphy, who was elected to Congress in 2012 by knocking off Republican firebrand Allen West. "I think Congressman Grayson prides himself on being the bomb-throwing, name-calling, finger-pointing person. ... If you ask me, that's no way to get something done with people."

But Grayson defended his style of saying "interesting" things and claimed that he has passed more amendments in the House of Representatives than any other member of Congress.

"I don't try to bore people with the usual drivel. And I'll plead guilty to that," he said.

A few minutes later, he proved his point in a soliloquy on the GOP caucus.

"There's a fundamental problem, which is that Republicanism in the House of Representatives is cannibalizing itself,'' he said. "They keep eating each other. Oh, there I go again, saying something interesting."

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera hammered home the point that he was the only one of the five without Washington experience.

Lopez-Cantera also distanced himself from right-wing demands that the GOP threaten to shut down the government in order to try to defund Planned Parenthood clinics. He said he would support such a move if it were "not just for a talking point," but that previous spending showdowns haven't worked.

"This whole shutdown strategy; I don't understand it, because it has not accomplished what they have sought to accomplish," Lopez-Cantera said. "The endgame is still going to be same."

Republican Congressman David Jolly underscored the fact that he didn't vote for a congressional committee to investigate Planned Parenthood's handling of fetal tissue. He noted that three committee were already looking into the matter.

While describing himself as a conservative, Jolly touted a maverick streak that he said came from his desire to get things done rather than dodge issues.

"What is true is that I voted against the intransigence and dishonesty of our own side of the aisle. Look, I am in a space right now in this Senate race where I'm calling it like I see it, with great political risk," he said.

But Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis demurred when asked about the shutdown strategy, saying he believed Congress should instead get back to the regular budget process instead of a process that causes last-minute showdowns. He noted that because of the procedures, the current Congress has not passed a full package of spending bills.

He also suggested that it was the inability of Congress to at least work for change that was causing some of the discontent among voters.

"I think voters understand, we have a complicated system," he said. "There are checks and balances. ... But if they don't see the effort, then I think they say, 'You know what, these guys just say what they want, just to get in there and once they're there, all they care about is maintaining their positions rather than actually doing things on behalf of the American people.'"

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