Hot on HuffPost:

See More Stories

Culture War Rages in Alan Grayson's Florida District

4 years ago
  0 Comments Say Something  »
Text Size
ORLANDO --You wouldn't know it by Alan Grayson's clothes -- the first-term congressman from Central Florida favors ill-fitting, off-the-rack suits, a white shirt ,and garish ties of the sort featuring Van Gogh's "Starry Night" in Halloween colors. But Grayson is a political firebrand who has become a favorite of the Democratic base, a hero of Netroots Nation, and the sweetheart of MSNBC.

When an admirer at an organizer's meeting referred to him as "our rock star," he replied, "Yeah, a rock star who can't sing or dance." But he can mix it up, at least verbally. If high school math and chess clubs had a patron saint, the socially awkward Alan Grayson would be a contender. A veteran of both clubs at the prestigious Bronx Science High School, and a science fiction buff, he overcame his minimal social skills to acquire three Harvard degrees, a telecom fortune in the tens of millions of dollars, and every Joni Mitchell album ever made.

Rep. Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida If you think America's culture wars are over, you should go to Orlando, where the battle for Florida's 8th Congressional District -- home of Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World -- is shaping up as a Sunbelt Classic in the mid-term election. Liberal wild man and House bad boy Grayson, 52, is facing a tough, bellwether district re-election contest, the key to any Republican takeover of the House. Most recent polls say he is in a very difficult race.

Grayson is probably the most outspoken liberal in Congress. He opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (each "a foreign occupation") and supports abortion rights, gay marriage, bilingual programs, middle class tax cuts, trade unions -- as well as comprehensive, single-payer health care. He defended the embattled, now-defunct community organization ACORN on the floor of Congress, calls Arizona's immigration law "racist," and declines to criticize Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Grayson is emphatically not a Democrat who believes that being civil is a public servant's primary obligation. Republicans are his usual targets, but not his only ones. (Grayson recently called White House press secretary Robert Gibbs "Bozo the Spokesman," and said Gibbs should be fired for doing "a miserable job.")

A former trial lawyer whose reflexive instinct is to concede nothing, he likes to counter-punch when attacked -- and doesn't mind throwing the first jab, either. During the heat of the health care reform debate, Grayson shot into the media stratosphere by charging on the House floor that the Republican alternative was to not get sick, but if you did, to "die quickly." He suggested jokingly, but without mirth, that former Vice President Dick Cheney was a vampire and characterized Republicans as "unscrupulous...foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who know nothing but 'no.'" Right-wing pundits are targets of particular scorn. Rush Limbaugh, he said, "is a has-been hypocrite loser" who was "more lucid when he was a drug addict."

Grayson's challenger is former state legislative leader Daniel Webster, a longtime veteran of the Florida legislature, who got off to a slow start, bogged down in a crowded GOP primary that sapped his time and money. Webster, 61, served as both the speaker of the Florida house and the senate majority leader. In the legislature, he was a longtime hero of the Christian Right, an outspoken advocate of home schooling and government-mandated "covenant marriage," which would have made divorce almost impossible in Florida. In 2008, he supported the presidential bid of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (who returned the favor by campaigning for Webster in the primary) and, in his victory speech on election night, Webster denounced the "mosque at Ground Zero."

"It's no secret that I'm a follower of Jesus Christ," he told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper. "I have been open to anyone who's open to talk about it." Webster's victory set up a schematic slugfest: a left-wing Jew vs. a right-wing Christian, in a swing district where suburban, middle class evangelicals are thick on the ground. It is already getting get nasty. The conservative billionaire Koch brothers, through their Americans for Prosperity front, have dumped $250,000 in anti-Grayson TV commercials onto the airwaves, and the Republican National Congressional Committee has reserved $800,000 in air time for more. A pharmaceutical lobbying group has just added another $600,000; the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce another $100,000.

Grayson, with his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric, stumbled recently in a commercial that denounced Webster as "Taliban Dan" for his views on marriage, which the congressman says would be at home in northwest Pakistan. "Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom -- in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida," the spot begins.

At first this barrage put Webster, who had pledged to wage a positive campaign, on his heels, but a backlash has set in. An array of critics, including The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, claim that the commercial is hyperbolic and takes Webster's remarks out of context. Grayson even clashed with a critical news anchor on the normally supportive MSNBC cable network. Grayson defended the ad in an acrimonious exchange with CNN's Anderson Cooper, but his campaign quietly re-cut the spot, eliminating the Taliban reference.

For his part, Webster has made little mention of his religious views, leaving the negative ads to independent groups. Instead, he argues for an unlimited U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan, which he calls a "democratic beachhead," insisting that the length of the American stay "should not be shared with the public."

Republicans, independents and even some centrist Democrats in Florida's 8th congressional district sometimes wonder how it came to be that their Sunbelt swing district elected such a brash, outspoken liberal. Perhaps, they speculate, Grayson arrived in Central Florida in 1996 in typically cinematic fashion, in the DeLorean parked behind his house, the same time-traveling vehicle made famous by the Back to the Future movies.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has named Grayson the GOP's Number One target for 2010. Within minutes of his victory in the Republican primary, Dan Webster had heard from Republican officials in Washington, pledging whatever resources it would take to beat Alan Grayson.

"This is a target seat," Webster said, amidst his election night supporters in the gymnasium of his mega-church."If the Republicans don't take this seat, they can't take the Congress." Lew Oliver, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, and a longtime Grayson adversary, told the Orlando Sentinel that if the GOP won every race but Webster's, "I'll slit my wrists."

Oddly, the two candidates do have one thing in common: neither likes door-to-door campaigning.

For his part, Grayson argues against Beltway conventional wisdom: namely, the proposition that Blue Dog Democrats in Sunbelt and heartland swing districts -- the most endangered species this fall, by all accounts -- are running in the wrong direction. Rather, Grayson insists the better strategy for liberal Democrats is to cultivate their base, and stop campaigning like moderate Republicans. Go on the attack, or counter attack. Run against Wall Street, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, most of all, battle the GOP as corporate, corrupt, do-nothing tools. Florida's 8th district could offer a laboratory in this aggressive strategy. Grayson has already raised nearly four million dollars for his reelection campaign, without dipping into his own considerable personal fortune, as he did in 2008.

Despite the acrimony he generates, Grayson has his defenders, who cite his work in supporting reforms in health care, defense procurement, Wall Street reform and oversight of the Federal Reserve. He also gets credit for being the driving force behind a new public-private program to bring foreign tourists to the U.S., and especially to his Orlando district, the home of so many theme parks and attractions.

"Different people have different styles," says Florida's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, perhaps one of the most even-tempered members of Congress. "His style has been particularly effective for him...There's no fluff when he talks about things like the tourism bill. Has he delivered? The answer is yes."

Our New Approach to Comments

In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum Comment Moderation Enabled. Your comment will appear after it is cleared by an editor.


Filter by:

Congressman Allen Grayson would make a great president ! I doubt if too many of the GOP would even try an debate him! He has a way of showing how greedy and low-down republicans are and leaves a permanent mark on their foreheads for everyone to see and not to forget! I hope that no one has forgot that the republicans after 12 years of control in congress and the senate,8 years of presidency, are the ones that brought our great nation to its knees in 2008, and why would anyone in their right mind want more of the same?? Please vote!

October 29 2010 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Jerry1:51 AM Oct 11, 2010 Awww - the right just can't stand it when someone stands up to them. When the right is confronted with the ugly truth about itself, they get desperate to shut off the source of their new pain. ***************** Sounds like you are talking about Obama....

October 11 2010 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

It's amusing how liberals like Grayson see themselves as "unifyers" and use gender, race and class as wedge issues...

October 11 2010 at 11:41 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Grayson is an uncooth, rude man who has no respect for those he is supposed to represent let alone his fellow members in congress. His outrageous comments while they have fed his narcissit ego with the media attention, they have been quite frankly embarrasing for most of us in Florida!

October 11 2010 at 9:59 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

Why did Bush and the GOP hide and cover up what the Rich pay in taxes? Why does the GOP refuse to tax the rich? Why did the GOP fight against unemployment benefits for Americans? Let's hear it Repubs! NO conservative has been able to give a straight up, honest answer yet to those questions! Gee! I wonder why? LOL!

October 11 2010 at 6:55 AM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

Whereas people like Palin,Angle,O'Donnell, and others blowhard when it comes to running someone else down, but run and hide behind Foxtrash when it comes down to taking the heat!Obama does this everyday but they can't handle it? Why are they such cowards? Doesn't America deserve better than this?

October 11 2010 at 6:49 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

After reading this article and getting some insight into how these candidates think, I would not vote for either one of them. Of course, they don't seem to be very different from so many other people running for public office right now. Can't this great nation provide enough honest, clear thinking, respectable persons as representatives of we the American people? Is it any wonder why voters become disenfranchised?

October 11 2010 at 1:52 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This guy is a straight shooter. Like him or not, we need more of his type in politics. I like him! His stands are right on, and he's not afraid to tell you what they are. Dem and Repub rail sitters take note.

October 11 2010 at 1:24 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

OMG, this poster boy for the endangered "left-wing-loony-bird" has got to be replaced for the sake of our Republic. He is the perfect example of the liquid Kool-aid" diet. Anyone who has seen the attack ad in question and knows the full story and yet still gives his vote to this man should be ashamed. If you don't want to give your vote to Webster because you disagree w/him then that is fine-please stay home on Nov 2nd.

October 10 2010 at 11:36 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Another michale moore..same sensless raves and rants..He is well aware the more radical he becomes the bigger his fan base grows...Liberal progressive for sure..but again most is an act.. just as moores is..

October 10 2010 at 11:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply


View All »

Discover inspiring videos on TEDWomen where people are reshaping our future with ideas.

View the Video »

Follow Politics Daily

Politics Home Page : Roll Call