Dan Donovan, Michael Grimm

Donovan: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File; Grimm: AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

Rep. Dan Donovan, Predecessor Michael Grimm Squaring Off In Primary

June 25, 2018 - 7:20 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- Tuesday is primary day in New York, and one of the closest-watched races involves a Republican congressional seat on Staten Island.

Former Rep. Michael Grimm is challenging his successor, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-New York).

Grimm held the seat until 2014, when he was convicted of tax evasion. He claims it was a witch hunt, even though he pleaded guilty.

As Vox Politics Reporter Dylan Scott explained to WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace Monday, there is no love lost between the candidates.

“What we’ve seen is (Grimm) attacking Congressman Donovan for being sort of insufficiently Republican. Congressman Donovan voted against the tax bill; voted against Obamacare repeal,” Scott said. “But it’s also kind of veered into really strange territory, where Grimm has accused Donovan of offering to convince President Trump to give Grimm a pardon if Grimm decided not to challenge Donovan in the primary, and in the midst of this kind of crazy Republican fight before primary day, this should also be a competitive election in November.”

Speaking to WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell, the candidates indeed had barbs to trade each other.

“It’s held by a Republican in name only, unfortunately,” Grimm said. “Donovan, my opponent, has voted against the president every time it mattered.”

Donovan countered, “I’m running against an opponent who abandoned my community; who betrayed our trust.”

Grimm, 48, is a former Marine and FBI agent who represented the area from 2011 to 2015.

He survived a political firestorm in 2014 after his violent threat against a reporter on Capitol Hill was caught on video. Following President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, Grimm threatened to “break in half” NY1 reporter Michael Scotto and throw him over the balcony at the U.S. Capitol.

A year later, Grimm was forced to resign after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud involving a restaurant he partially owned before going to Congress.

Grimm said he was wrong and "deserved a fine," but he said the matter should never have been a felony or a criminal matter at all. He argued that it was only made into a criminal matter for political reasons.

“Of course (I pleaded guilty),” Grimm said. “I didn’t have $500,000 to go to trial.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has enforced Donovan.

"Remember Alabama," Trump wrote on Twitter, likening Grimm to Republican Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who was nominated even despite being accused of molesting teenage girls and who lost the general election to a Democrat in the GOP stronghold.

As to Trump’s endorsement, Scott said it should help Donovan – even though Grimm is “kind of running as a Trump prototype – very brash, very outspoken.”

“This is another case we’ve seen that’s in a few races around the country where President Trump has instead decided to endorse the more establishment candidate in Congressman Donovan, even though he has voted against a couple of President Trump’s high-profile legislative issues,” Scott said. “This is a district where President Trump won by 10 points in 2016, so you would think that Trump’s endorsement would mean something. But we’ve seen some polling that put Grimm actually ahead of Donovan, so how that shakes out remains to be seen. It should be a pretty close race tomorrow.”

Donovan told Haskell he is not worried about an enthusiasm gap between himself and Grimm.

“Lawn signs don’t win elections,” he said. “Votes win elections.”

Donovan also said Grimm cannot win in November.

 (© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)