ORLANDO — In this House district on the outskirts of Disney World, it’s not a question of whether Alan Grayson is returning to Congress — it’s whether he plans to resume attacking Republicans in his customarily spirited style.
All indications are that the answer is yes — Grayson said he is eager to pick up from where he left off two years ago when Republicans spent more than $5.5 million to defeat him as part of the national tea party wave. He is one of several former Democratic lawmakers sent packing two years ago who hope to return to Congress. But among those Democrats hoping to return — including former Reps. Charlie Wilson (Ohio), Bill Foster (Ill.) and Dan Maffei (N.Y.) — Grayson’s victory seems most likely.
He’s a Bronx native and Harvard Law graduate who clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia when they served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A government contract lawyer by training, he won a House seat in 2008 after successfully challenging a Iraq war contractor in federal court — the first time an American firm was held responsible for wartime fraud.
Once in Washington, Grayson quickly emerged as a liberal spokesman and frequent guest on cable and radio talk shows. He is perhaps best remembered for taking to the House floor during debate over the health-care reform bill to say: “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: die quickly! That’s right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.”
Instead of revoking his comments when Republicans complained, Grayson doubled-down and called his speech a sarcastic attack on GOP lawmakers blocking the bill’s passage.
The following year, Grayson lost reelection after facing what he called “sewer money negative ads from special interests.”
“I was a guinea pig for what the other side could get away with after the Citizens United decision,” he said in an interview, adding that he also suffered from a wide swing of voter support towards Republican candidates.
But Grayson didn’t shy from a fight in 2010 — and was faulted for attempting to mislead voters about his Republican challenger, Daniel Webster. In an ad, Grayson labeled Webster “Taliban Dan” by attempting to compare the Republican’s position on women’s issues to the Taliban. In another ad, Grayson called Webster a draft dodger.
Grayson strongly challenges any suggestion that his aggressive tactics contributed to his loss.
“We did a lot of good when I was in and I don’t see anyone else trying to do that right now,” he said. “Among other things, we cut foreclosures in Orange County by half, by instituting a mandatory mediation program. We found a way to pass the Travel Promotion Act, which had been languishing for six years before we found a way to get it through the House. We doubled the amount of grant money coming into my district in the first year. We had a big impact and we did a lot of help for a lot of people.”
This year, Grayson is running in a district created by Florida redistricting. He faces poorly-funded Republican Todd Long, a frequent long-shot congressional candidate.
“He had his chance, he was thrown out,” Long said of Grayson. “Nothing went well for anyone, especially the middle class. Instead of solving problems – gas prices went up, the debt went up, more people are on food stamps than ever – everything went the wrong way and Alan Grayson, instead of working with people, just started screaming at Republicans and calling people names.”
Polls give Grayson a wide lead and Long is receiving no support from national Republicans. Not one outside conservative groups is challenging Grayson this cycle.
Grayson promises he will be ready if Republicans target him in two years: “The way that people, especially candidates for Congress, whine about how they can’t get things done in Washington, says more about them than about Washington,” he said. “You can do a lot of good: You just have to concentrate, you have to work hard, you have to get things done, you have to keep your eye on the ball.”