Longtime state legislator Daniel Webster drubbed first-term Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson by a double-digit margin in a nationally-watched contest in the central Florida district that covers much of Orlando. Voters weren't so much angry with Washington as fed up with their outspoken incumbent congressman.
The amiable Webster had the strong support of local Tea Party activists although he is himself the antithesis of this year's angry outsider. More important to the district's voters, Webster, 61, is
the antithesis of Grayson, an outspoken, Harvard-educated Obama supporter who made a national name for himself as the champion of the Democratic base
and a favorite of liberal bloggers and MSNBC.
Grayson, 52, waged a relentlessly – and, many thought -- an overwrought and negative campaign. In particular one TV spot, a Grayson ad dubbed Webster "Taliban Dan"
for his support of fundamentalist Christian views on women, marriage, divorce and abortion. Grayson apologized for taking a Webster quote wildly out of context, but only grudgingly. He was, many believe, the engine of his own destruction although this would have been a tough year even if the self-proclaimed "democratic populist" had waged a perfect – and perfectly civil – campaign.
"Things haven't worked out exactly as we hoped," Grayson conceding to a packed, downtown crowd. "It was just that kind of a year."
Grayson's young supporters chanted "2012!," "Yes we did!" and "Grayson, Grayson!"
For Webster, it was enough this year to have high name recognition in the district and an "R" following his name on the ballot, and the deep, longtime support from conservative Christian groups. He rarely attacked Grayson, or even responded to his attacks. Webster avoided all debates – unusual for a challenger – and stuck to this year's GOP mantra: "Washington is broken."
Webster raised a paltry $1.3 million, compared to more than $5 million raised by Grayson, without having to draw on his own personal fortune, as the Democrat did in his previous two campaigns. (He lost a Democratic primary for the House seat in 2006).
"This is a new day for our Country and I am thankful to be a part of it," Webster told supporters at a hotel ballroom in Orlando's tourist area. Surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren, the youngest of which he cradled in his arms, Webster finally took an oblique shot at Grayson.
"This is a huge victory for people who are tired of the politics of personal destruction," he said. "We ran a positive campaign against a broken system. Now it's time to begin the work of fixing it."
Webster was able to stick to the high road since national Republican groups and independent committees like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $2 million on negative ads denouncing Grayson as a "Big Mouth Politician." Another commercial claimed he was a "big barker" who turned into Nancy Pelosi's "lapdog."
Grayson's supporters grumbled that in choosing Webster, an air conditioning contractor, voters may have chosen a representative that more accurately reflects this year's district voter profile: socially and fiscally conservative, bland, provincial and not too intellectual. In short, everything Grayson is not.
When Bill Clinton came to the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Oct. 20 to boost the sagging fortunes of Democratic candidates, the former President was almost upstaged by Grayson, who brought the audience of students and seniors to their feet by leading them in the chant made famous by Latin American leftists in the 1960s and 1970s: "The people, united, will never be defeated!" ("¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!")
In the adjoining 24th District, which includes parts of heavily Republican Seminole County and several Atlantic coast beach communities, as well as Cape Canaveral, another first term Democrat, Suzanne Kosmas, ran as a classic Blue Dog, but suffered the same fate, losing to Republican challenger Sandy Adams, a former law enforcement officer and an outspoken conservative member of the state house of representatives, by 60-40. The district has a majority of registered Republicans.
Money was not a problem for either of the defeated Democrats. In the final two weeks of the campaign, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Grayson and Kosmas campaigns, with the aid of Democratic Party and independent groups (like Moveon.org and the American Federation of Teachers for Grayson) blanketed local television airwaves with more than 600 commercials.
Grayson went down swinging, running a series of TV spots over the weekend that pounded Wall Street investment firms, banks and insurance companies for exploiting middle class Americans. In large, black, block letters, the spots proclaimed, "When They Lie, Stand With Grayson."
In less than two years in the House, Grayson made himself a lightning rod for many conservatives. He denounced the Republicans as "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals", the GOP's plan for health care ("Don't get sick...Die quickly!
"), the Federal Reserve system (represented by a former "K Street whore"), Vice President Dick Cheney (a vampire who has "blood that drips from his lips"), and conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh ("has-been, hypocrite loser...more lucid when he was a drug addict.").
A recent Newsweek column by George Will
, headlined "American's Worst Politician," argued that the nation's "public life would be improved by scrubbing Alan Grayson from it" by ending his "short, ugly career."
"It's OK if the Republicans lose every seat in the Senate and the House except for one," Fox News's Glenn Beck told his fans. "As long as that one is Alan Grayson losing."
Always a counter-puncher, Grayson told his supporters before the election, "I'd like to win on Tuesday. For the sake of the battered middle class in America, the jobless, the homeless, the sick, the poor, the hungry and the desperate. But I would also like to win so that I can tell Glenn Beck to stick it. So that we can all tell Glenn Beck to stick it."
That won't be happening.