Alan Grayson reenters the House the way he left it two years earlier, as one of its most controversial figures. For many Democrats, he’s an outspoken progressive hero. To conservatives, he’s a loud-mouthed demagogue. But in this election, he also showed himself to be a resilient politician, and he will represent a redrawn Orlando-based 9th District with a larger Hispanic constituency.
Grayson grew up in the projects in the Bronx borough of New York City. He became interested in politics at an early age. “We had The New York Times and the New York Post at our doorstep each day,” Grayson said in an interview. While an undergraduate at Harvard, Grayson lived modestly and took odd jobs as a janitor and as a night watchman. He ultimately left Harvard in 1983 with a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy.
Grayson then worked as a law clerk in Colorado and for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. At the D.C. court, he dealt with two future Supreme Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg’s husband, Martin Ginsburg, then asked Grayson to join his law firm. Grayson eventually started a telecommunications firm and became wealthy. He earned notoriety for his legal work during the second Iraq War, taking private defense contractors to court for providing faulty equipment to U.S. soldiers.
He launched his first bid for Congress in 2006, but lost in the Democratic primary. In his 2008 run against Republican Rep. Ric Keller, he emphasized his work fighting corrupt contractors. Grayson accused Keller of being the deciding “no” vote on a bill that would have supplied returning war veterans with replacement limbs. One of his ads featured Grayson holding up an artificial leg. With the election of President Obama, 2008 was a strong year for Democrats, and Grayson bested Keller, 52 percent to 48 percent.
In his work in the House, Grayson was as pugnacious as ever. He called conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh a “has-been hypocrite loser.” He became one of the Federal Reserve’s staunchest critics and joined with GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to get the “Audit the Fed” bill passed. But then in a radio interview, he referred to a Fed senior adviser as a “K Street whore.” Grayson apologized for the remark. During a floor speech on health care, he made a now-infamous comment: “If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.” In 2010, Republican Daniel Webster unseated him in a highly negative campaign.
Two years later, Grayson hoped that a more favorable climate for Democrats would help him make a comeback. The favorite in the Republican primary to take on Grayson was Osceola County Commission Chairman John Quiñones. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Grayson put out radio ads and mailers, and spent $110,000 on anti-Quiñones TV ads. Personal-injury lawyer Todd Long pulled off an upset with 47 percent of the vote; Quiñones came in second with 28 percent.
Long had had several run-ins with the law and appeared to be an easier opponent for Grayson. But Long, who called himself a “constitutional conservative,” cast the race in David-versus-Goliath terms and referred to Grayson as a “big bully.” Grayson ran an ad saying that Long wanted to dismantle Social Security, but Long appeared at a local Social Security office to dispute the claim. In a fiery debate in September, Grayson at one point interrupted Long, who replied, “You can shut up.” Long called for a 23 percent national sales tax, while Grayson promised to protect entitlements. National Republicans may have viewed Long as a lost cause: As of September, Long had pulled in only $34,000 while Grayson had raised some $2.7 million. Grayson went on to win.
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