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Grayson Headed Back to Congress?

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

June 19, 2012

Florida’s post-redistricting 9th District (Clearwater, etc.) was designed to meet the Voting Rights Act requirement to favor a minority, i.e., Hispanic candidate, as well as to elect a Democrat. The district’s voting age population is 41% Hispanic, 43% white and 10% black. The Hispanic population is more than half Puerto Rican, who mostly vote Democratic, with only a small share of Cubans, who generally vote Republican. Within the district’s boundaries, Obama led McCain by 21 points in 2008, and in the 2010 governor’s race, Democrat Alex Sink led the GOP’s Rick Scott by 10 points. 

Enter Alan Grayson, a former congressman who would like to get back to Congress. He quickly raised a hefty war chest; as of March 31, he had $826,000 cash-on-hand. As a result, despite the fact that Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the district and are mostly Democrats, no Hispanic candidate tried to challenge Grayson for the nomination. However, as an aggressive liberal, Grayson probably fits the political outlook of Florida’s Puerto Rican voters.

Grayson, during his single term in Congress, was known for his acidic over-the-top rhetoric, once referring to the Republicans’ healthcare plan as “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly!” And in an interview with Al Sharpton, he quipped that “George Bush is no more popular than venereal disease.” Grayson voted with the Democratic majority approximately 98% of the time, according to a Washington Post analysis, which should not cause him difficulty in this Democratic district. No surprise, Grayson has recently been endorsed by the state AFL-CIO. 

On the Republican side, the leading contender is former state Rep. John Quinones, 47, an attorney, who was born in Puerto Rico and educated in Florida. He has not been in the race long enough to report his fundraising. Three other Republicans, Todd Long, Osceola School Board member Julius Melendez, and Mark Oxner, are also running. Melendez had $49,000 on hand as of March 31; Oxner had $27,000; and Long only $755. 

Quinones has a strong electoral history in parts of the district, having won three terms in the state House of Representatives and two on the Osceola County Commission. 

He has been endorsed by former Florida Attorney General and central Florida Congressman Bill McCollum, which should help him in the primary.

Grayson has run well with Hispanic voters in the past, though not when opposing a Latino candidate. 

Independent Miguel Nieves is also running.

It is not unusual for Latino voters and their political establishments to end up with non-Hispanic elected officials. Unlike African Americans, Hispanics do not have the strong political consciousness that the civil rights movement provided black voters and their leaders. In Texas, for example, neither of the two districts that were drawn to elect Latinos are likely to do so this year. In the recent primary, in the 35th District, which is 58% Hispanic, well-financed Anglo US Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) easily won the nomination with 73% over several Latino candidates. And in the 33rd District, which is 39% Hispanic and 25% black, an African-American led the ticket in the primary and is favored in the runoff over a Latino. 

There are currently 19 Republicans and 6 Democrats on Florida’s US House delegation; in addition, the 2010 Census added two new seats. Democrats hope to make significant congressional gains in Florida and regard the 9th District as probably their best opportunity.

Likely Democratic.


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