Feisty Fla. Democrat Fights Anti-Democrat Mood

In an attack ad released in late September, the notoriously outspoken Democratic Incumbent Alan Grayson accused his opponent of being a religious fanatic - and referred to him as "Taliban Dan." "Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom, in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida," a female narrator says in the ad. Grayson's campaign later came under fire not just for inferring that his opponent was a terrorist, but also for manipulating video footage of Webster in the ad to make him seem anti-woman. CBS

Alan Grayson strutted to the stage as "Eye of the Tiger," the theme from the movie "Rocky III," blared from the speakers at an AFL-CIO get out the vote rally in Orlando on Saturday.

Playing to a friendly union crowd, Grayson, 51, a freshman Democrat incumbent, raised his hands in a "V for victory" pose. "We will show central Florida the power of the people," Grayson said, vowing not to be swept out of office by a wave of anti-Democrat sentiment and a slew of negative television ads running against him.

"I must be doing something right. We've got Wall Street, we've got the oil companies, we've got the insurance companies," Grayson said. "Their number one target in this election is me. I swear to you I am so proud."

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Grayson says outside groups allied with the Republican Party, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had already spent close to $2 million in the past six weeks on TV ads attacking him.

"They are forgetting one thing - money can't vote," Grayson told the rally.

In an interview with CBS News Grayson said, "The average person in Orlando in the past six weeks has seen 70 abusive, vile, negative ads against me, ads from outside groups that say I am liar, that I'm a big mouth, that I'm a national embarrassment."

He continued, "The interest groups are trying to buy this election. They couldn't buy me, so instead they are trying to destroy me."

That's the typical blunt talk that has gotten Grayson notice around the country during his two years in office. A wealthy lawyer, former businessman and economist, in 2008 he won Florida's 24th congressional district, a swing seat long held by Republicans, with 52 percent of the vote.

He rode President Barack Obama's coattails as Obama inspired a surge of Democrat registration, won 8,297 more votes than Grayson in his district, and put Florida back in the Democrat's win column for the first time since 1996.

Except for the troop surge in Afghanistan, the congressman has largely supported Mr. Obama's agenda from the $780 billion economic "stimulus" last year to health care reform this year.

"We have the answers that people need in order to improve their everyday lives and restore the middle class in this country. The Republicans just don't," Grayson said in the interview.

A self-described populist, the Bronx-born, Harvard-educated Grayson calls himself (and his website) "a congressman with guts" and has gained fame and notoriety for sparring in congressional hearings with Federal Reserve officials to his rhetorical attacks on Republicans, whom he once called "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals."

"I say the things that other people are thinking, but nobody else is saying," Grayson says.

Most notable, perhaps, was when he spoke on the House floor on the evening of September 29, 2009, charts in hand, and fired a salvo at the GOP.

"Mocking them for the absence of a health care plan, I said their plan amounts to 'don't get sick," Grayson recalls, "and if you do get sick, their backup plan is 'die quickly.'"

The clip has had more than 330,000 views on YouTube. Grayson says that nearly 100,000 people have contributed money to his campaign, possibly the largest donor base for a U.S. House candidate, with an average contribution of $30. Overall, he has raised close to $4 million for his campaign, some from his own fortune.

Now the tables have turned with those ads tying Grayson to Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their perceived to be sinking approval ratings.

"When it comes to Nancy Pelosi, big barker Grayson turns into a lap dog," says a Chamber of Commerce ad seen frequently on Orlando TV.

Grayson's challenger is Daniel Webster, 61, a mild-mannered Republican who owns an air conditioning business and served a combined 28 years in both chambers of the Florida legislature, including a term as state house speaker.

"I am running for Congress because Washington is broken," Webster told CBS News in an interview. "The process is broken, the policy is broken, the way they campaign is broken, and [Grayson] is a part of that."

Webster is a social conservative opposed to all abortions, but says his top priority is to reign in the federal budget. "We're borrowing $4 billion a day and spending it," Webster says. "The key is just turning off the spigot."

This weekend his campaign volunteers were going door to door in Orlando neighborhoods. Eighty-percent of Webster's former state senate district lies within the congressional district.

Voter Lynn King agreed to let volunteers place a Webster sign in her front yard. "He's a man of integrity, I believe him, I believe he's honest, and I believe he's going to do what we need for him to do up there, and really support us versus going along with the status quo," King said.

The district's largest newspaper, the "Orlando Sentinel," endorsed Webster over Grayson last Friday, saying in an editorial the incumbent suffered from "hyper-partisan fever" while Webster's tenure in Tallahassee was marked by "civility and statesmanship."

The district includes Disney World and the city's other major attractions but also a growing number of high tech companies and a Lockheed Martin missile facility. It is 21 percent Hispanic and 9 percent black.

Webster says, "It's a district that has gone both ways. It's a picture of a district that I suspect would have to be won in order for the Republicans to gain a majority."

Grayson hopes to avoid being a casualty of a Republican takeover and to return to Congress to pursue a vision of activist government.

From his perch on the House Financial Services Committee, Grayson co-sponsored a law with Texas Republican Ron Paul to audit the Federal Reserve. He wants to see a $1 billion infrastructure improvement for Interstate 4, which connects Orlando and Tampa, to move forward. And his way of fixing health care would be to allow anyone to buy into Medicare, a type of "public option" that was dropped from the final bill this year.

"You've got only three friends in this life: God, your mama, and the Democratic Party," Grayson says. "There is an an entire middle class agenda that needs to be enacted."

In two weeks, he'll find out if the voters in central Florida agree.

Related Coverage:

Alan Grayson Labels Opponent "Taliban Dan Webster"
"Taliban Dan" Ad Spurs Debate Over Dan Webster
GOP: Grayson "National Embarrassment" after "Taliban Dan" Ad
Alan Grayson Again Attacks Daniel Webster on Women's Issues
  • Phil Hirschkorn

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