Donna Deegan announced her candidacy to run as a Democrat against incumbent Jacksonville area Congressman John Rutherford (R-FL4), Thursday morning on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.
Deegan is the founder of the 26.2 with DONNA, The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer and was a longtime anchor at First Coast News.
She says surviving cancer for 20 years has changed everything about her life.
“It is absolutely morally reprehensible that we do not offer people healthcare. And that's the main reason I'm in this race,” Deegan said. She said she supports universal health care.
Related: https://news.wjct.org/post/111419-donna-deegan-jax-jax-literary-arts-festival-photo-ark-around-townListen to the full interview with Deegan
She’ll be up against a strong GOP incumbent, but Deegan is hoping voters will cross party lines.
“I think that people tend to vote their party because that's where we are. Right now we're in a very polarized place. But what I'm hoping is, is that people realize I am a person who is used to listening, I want to listen, I will spend the next year listening, and I will represent their voices,” she said.
Rutherford won reelection in 2018 with 65.2% of the vote. His closest competitor, Democrat Ges Selmont, captured 32.4%.
Deegan told WJCT News she disagrees with Rutherford on at least one issue: whether to hold town halls with constituents.
Congressman Rutherford told Melissa Ross in August why he doesn’t do it: “Because they're dysfunctional. My responsibility to my constituents is to make myself available. And I do that every day, day in and day out. Anybody can come to my office and they do. I speak at every civic group in this district from Nassau to St. Johns County.”
Deegan said, "Actually, Melissa, I was listening when Representative Rutherford said that on your show, and I will be honest with you to say that at that point, I was still on the fence as to whether or not I was going to take this plunge, and it was one of the things that really put me over the top."
She added, “I'll hold town halls now. I'll hold town halls for the next year."
Congressman Rutherford's office declined an interview request from WJCT News following Deegan's announcement, instead issuing a statement from Rutherford campaign spokesman Tim Baker: “The Congressman has no comment on any one of the number of candidates that have filed to run in the 4th District. He looks forward to running a vigorous re-election campaign focused on his record of results for the citizens of Northeast Florida.”
Rutherford, who was first elected to the U.S. Congress in 2016, was previously Jacksonville’s sheriff for 12 years ending in 2015, and he was with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in some capacity for 41 years, according to WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union.
Deegan was a vocal supporter of Democrat Andrew Gillum’s failed 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Despite the loss and controversy Gillum faced in an ethics case, in which he agreed to paid a $5,000 fine, she stands by him.
“He taught me so much about the work ethic that is involved in doing something like this, and I admire his authenticity, and I admire so many things about him. I would never shy away from Andrew Gillum or my support for him,” said Deegan.
She also pledged to take the high road in her campaign against Rutherford.
“I don't believe that fear will get us anywhere for the long haul and I won't employ those tactics. Can I do anything about what they say? No, I can't. But what I will do is I will not play in that ball field,” she said.
One of the primary areas where Rutherford and Deegan are likely to clash is gun control.
“It's common sense that we should have universal background checks,” said Deegan.
In an August interview with WJCT News, Rutherford pointed out that he drafted the Stop School Violence Act of 2018.
“Well, we actually enhanced the background check system last session with the Fix NICS bill that will require better reporting from federal agencies and others into that system,” Rutherford said.
Today Deegan is perhaps best known as a long-distance runner, where she joins thousands from around the world for her annual 26.2 with Donna: Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, which is held every February at the Beaches.
The event has raised millions to support breast cancer research and to provide help to families dealing with cancer and medical debt.
Through her DONNA Foundation, $5 million has been distributed, helping some 13,000 families, according to the foundation’s website.
Deegan, who said she filed to run on Wednesday, has launch a congressional campaign website at https://donnadeeganforcongress.com.