(AP)-In his single term in office, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson became one of the most vocal partisans on Capitol Hill. The Orlando Democrat described the Republican health care plan as hoping people “die quickly,'' and he called a Federal Reserve Bank adviser a “K Street whore.''
Two years after he lost his 2010 re-election bid by 18 percentage points, Grayson is running again in a newly-created district that was formed out of large chunks of his former district.
“Sometimes when you lose, nobody hears from you again,'' Grayson said in a recent interview. “This will be the comeback story of the year, if we win. And right now, it looks very much like we will.''
Grayson is running in a district that was drawn so that Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the district. Neither major-party candidate in the District 9 race is Hispanic, even though the district was drawn to capture the large numbers of Puerto Ricans who have moved to metro Orlando in the past decade. An expected Hispanic GOP opponent was defeated by attorney Todd Long in last August's primary. Long, who is best known for hosting a conservative radio talk show and running ever-present television ads promoting his law practice, was aided by last-minute ads from Grayson.
Long, a tea party favorite, hasn't gotten much support from the national GOP.
“I'm not a political establishment guy. I'm a regular guy,'' said Long, who previously had a strong but ultimately unsuccessful primary run to be the GOP nominee in the then-District 8 congressional race in 2008.
Hispanic community activist Zoraida Rios-Andino called it “disappointing'' that a Hispanic candidate wasn't the nominee for either major party. But she partly blamed it on the lack of political engagement among central Florida's Latinos.
“Activism within the Puerto Rican and Latino community is relatively new here,'' Rios-Andino said. “Until more people realize that we have to be involved first and foremost in our organizations and issues, then we can more effective in working with the political parties.''
Rio-Andino said she is supporting Grayson but added that the political establishment “knows our community isn't organized in community groups as big as they should be, and until our people learn that, politicians are going to continue to take advantage of us.''
The local newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, opted not to endorse either candidate, saying Congress needs members who can put aside their partisanship.
Long is considered a long shot in the race because Grayson has raised 33 times more money than he has, and also because of the party makeup of the district _ 42 percent are Democrats and 27 percent are Republicans.
“My job is to give people an alternative,'' Long said. “I'm not responsible for the outcome. I'm responsible for the fight.''
Even though Grayson has raised $4.3 million to Long's $83,000 as of the end of September, the Democrat has been aggressive in his advertising. Television ads accuse Long of wanting to raise the age of qualifying for Social Security and supporting Medicare cuts. In a video on his Web site, Long calls those charges “lies.''
Long's positions on those government programs are no different than the top of his party's ticket.
If elected, Long says the first bill he would introduce would restructure the nation's tax structure to eliminate almost all current taxes, replacing them with a national sales tax. Long said he first got involved with politics because of his concern with the nation's debt and its effects on his children's future.
“We're guaranteeing them no future,'' Long said. “If we can't balance budgets now, it just gets harder later on. You have two choices. You either watch it happen or you fight.''
Grayson's biggest fear isn't Long, who is struggling to raise money for television advertisements in the last weeks of the campaign. It is advertising from conservative third-party groups, including the American Action Network, an outfit headed by former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Grayson put in $220,000 of his own money into the campaign to ensure that he would have ammo to fight back.
“I personally wanted to make sure that we didn't get outspent by some crazy billionaire who wanted to interfere in local, central Florida politics,'' said Grayson, whose personal wealth comes from an earlier career as a trial attorney. “I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is to make sure that doesn't happen. So we have matched and we will match whatever expenditures they want to throw at us.''
American Action Network spokesman Dan Conston only would say that his group had reserved $1.1 million in ad buys for the Orlando media market for the last two weeks of the campaign season.
“We don't discuss strategy or upcoming strategic decisions,'' Conston said from Washington.
Long is optimistic the third-party spending will help him.
“We're praying that happens,'' Long said. “If it happens, it will almost guarantee us victory.''
The local Democratic Party also has tried to use information from Long's personal life against him.
The Orange County Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, claiming Long used money from a campaign during the 2009-10 election cycle to purchase copies of a book he had written. Under the terms of a deal with his publisher, he was obliged to buy a certain number of books.
In the FEC filing, Democratic party officials said they gleaned the information from a financial affidavit filed with his divorce case. Candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds to pay for personal obligations.
Long said the complaint has no merits.
Grayson points to his record in Congress when asked why he should be sent back to Washington. He points to the increased competitive grant money that went into his district, a mandatory mediation program that helped cut foreclosures in the Orlando area and the passage of a travel promotion bill that had languished in Congress and now benefits the area's biggest industry.
Despite that, Grayson is aware that if he returns to Washington, he may return to being the congressional Democrat conservatives love to hate.
“I welcome the hatred. It doesn't matter to me,'' Grayson said. “That's not why I do the job.''