Alan Grayson: the Democrat Who Punches Back, Enraging GOP Hacks and Tea Party Billionaires
Continued from previous page
Grayson's challenger is Daniel Webster, 61, winner of a crowded, bruising August 24 primary. A soft-spoken, silver-haired champion of the Christian right, Webster served as majority leader in Florida's Senate and speaker of its House during twenty-eight years in the Legislature. A longtime advocate of home schooling and "covenant marriage," Webster was endorsed in the primary by a former National Rifle Association president and Jeb Bush, the state's popular ex-governor. Taking the opposite side from Grayson on virtually every issue, Webster has pledged to roll back Congress's "runaway spending" and stop the "bailouts, buyouts and payoffs." He has criticized healthcare reform as a "redistribution of wealth plan" and, more ominously, adopted the mantra of the Tea Party: "You know what? It's our country, not theirs. So let's take it back." The night of his primary victory celebration, held in a megachurch gymnasium, he made it a point to denounce the "Ground Zero mosque."
The race may serve as a test of the Democratic Party's Southern strategy. Thomas Schaller argued in Whistling Past Dixie that the region is a lost cause, so deeply and inherently conservative that the party should write it off entirely. Nation writer Bob Moser responded in Blue Dixie that Democrats can win using a formula like Grayson's. That is, by spending plenty of money -- some of it his own -- in an aggressive, sometimes negative, campaign against Wall Street, the Federal Reserve ("sucker of last resort") and obstructionist Republicans who can dish it out but can't take it.
A critical element of this strategy, which Grayson embodies, is cultivating his Netroots Nation supporters while mobilizing a committed home base of union members, prochoice activists, gays, Jews and African-Americans -- along with young " Daily Show Democrats" who don't hesitate to criticize their party's leadership. A key segment of Grayson's base is Latinos; the district's slim Democratic plurality is largely a result of an influx of Puerto Rican newcomers to Central Florida.
A tall man with a lumbering, forward-leaning walk and a lacerating tongue, Grayson is on his third career, at least. He earned millions with a telecom start-up in the 1990s and in the early 2000s made a name for himself by bringing whistleblower suits against alleged Iraq War profiteers like KBR and Custer Battles. Grayson's normal outfit, despite his wealth, is a dark, ill-fitting suit from a discount chain and a garish tie -- an American flag or van Gogh's Starry Night in Halloween colors. He wore one featuring Monopoly money on the floor of the House when he excoriated the Federal Reserve Board for propping up Wall Street and investing public funds in shaky real estate deals. As the midterm campaign has unfolded here, the central issue has become whether the incumbent is a prickly progressive who articulates the agenda of his party's liberal base or an arrogant publicity hound, a man ideologically and temperamentally out of step with his constituents.
The 8th -- home of Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld -- is a classic swing district: 178,589 registered Democrats, 167,612 Republicans and 95,989 independents. The recent Citizens United decision has cleared the way for banks and corporations, frequent Grayson targets, to dump millions into the race. There's a third candidate, Peg Dunmire of the Tea Party, on the ballot, who could divide conservatives. The Grayson campaign's latest internal poll shows Grayson leading Webster 40 to 27, with Dunmire and other write-ins and independents dividing the remainder. But those numbers aside, many election watchers have pegged Webster to knock Grayson out of the House; both Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight and independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg rate the contest a tossup but give an edge to the Republican.