By Jim Ellis
May 3, 2018 — Acerbic former Florida Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) officially announced his political comeback after creating subterfuge about which congressional contest he would actually enter.Originally, Grayson stated he would run in CD-11 against Rep. Dan Webster (R-Clermont) in what must be regarded as a safe Republican seat. Even while saying he would file there, Grayson indicated that he was just using a potential campaign against Rep. Webster, the man who unseated him from his original 8th District seat in 2010, as a placeholder. Upon Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) surprisingly announcing his retirement, Grayson then publicly toyed with the idea of running in what will be an open Republican 15th District, which borders his former 9th CD but then extends well westward almost to Tampa.
With time running out, the former representative and US Senate candidate has finally made his plans clear … unless, of course, he changes his mind again before Friday’s candidate filing deadline expires. As many people always believed would be the case, Grayson announced that he would challenge freshman Rep. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) for the 9th District seat that he previously represented for two terms.
The ex-congressman said he is not so much “taking on” Soto, but is “ … running for my old seat. That seat doesn’t belong to anybody in particular. It’s up to the voters,” Grayson said, in a local news interview about his latest candidacy.
Rep. Soto was elected to replace Grayson, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate Democratic nomination in 2016 (losing to then-Rep. Patrick Murphy, 59-18 percent). After spending just over nine years in the Florida legislature, Soto defeated three other Democratic congressional candidates in August of 2016 including Grayson’s wife, Dena Grayson. Soto won the plurality primary with 36 percent of the vote. He then scored a 57-42 percent victory in the general election.
Rep. Soto is the first Puerto Rican to win a Florida congressional seat. The 9th District is 39 percent Hispanic in total population, with 57 percent of that segment number identifying as Puerto Rican. Grayson told an Orlando Sentinel reporter that he “doesn’t anticipate any problems” running in this district, however. He said he has “strong support across the board, in the Anglo community, African American community, and the Hispanic community as well. I could say my support in the Hispanic community is stronger than his,” Grayson concluded in reference to his new primary opponent.
Grayson, always staking out the left wing of the Democratic Party in his campaign and non-consecutive tenure in the House, will attack Soto from his political left flank, particularly around the new congressman’s “A” rating he earned from the National Rifle Association when a member of the legislature.
The 9th District was created in its present form as part of the 2011 redistricting map, a seat left wholly intact when the state Supreme Court re-drew the districts in 2015.
The 9th begins in the southeastern Orlando suburbs near the city’s busy international airport, and then continues south into the Kissimmee/St. Cloud area. The other major population center is in the district’s western sector, encompassing the Winter Haven, Cypress Gardens, Lake Wales, and Babson Park communities. From Orlando, the district stretches all the way to Yeehaw Junction in a southeast direction down the Florida Turnpike.
FL-9 typically sees voting percentages for Democratic candidates reach the mid to high 50s. Surprisingly, considering that the competitive battle for the seat would rest in the Democratic primary, Grayson was unopposed for the party nomination when the CD was created without an incumbent back in 2011. He was subsequently challenged in the 2014 primary, but secured re-nomination with a 74 percent victory. He averaged 58.2 percent in his two victorious general election campaigns here.
The Soto-Grayson primary, scheduled for Aug. 28, will undoubtedly generate some interesting media coverage. Though Grayson is clearly a formidable candidate with the ability to self-fund his campaign, it is likely that the new incumbent will prevail when the Democratic primary dust settles.