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Grayson watches Fla. redistricting process as he contemplates a comeback

This report is part of collaboration with WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” to cover the 25 most captivating congressional races from around the country.

Alan Grayson, the former Democratic representative from Orlando who made national headlines for his pointed criticisms of the Republican Party, is running for Congress — somewhere.

Grayson, considered to be a firebrand for the left, garnered national attention during the charged federal health care reform debates in 2009. His most famous moment came when he proclaimed on the House floor that the GOP’s health care plan was for sick people to “die quickly.”

“The Republican health care plan [is]: Don’t get sick,” he said. “But, the Republicans have a back up plan in case you do get sick. … This is what the Republicans want you to do. If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly!”

After his speech, Grayson made various appearances on cable news shows and was considered one of the few Democrats making as much noise as the GOP during the health care debates.

But the unpopularity of the health care debates and the waning popularity of the Democratic Party posed a significant threat to Grayson’s 2010 reelection, as well as other Democrats in the House. Grayson was voted out of office, along with a slew of other Democratic representatives, during the 2010 election. Dan Webster won Florida’s Eighth district with 56 percent of the vote that year. Grayson earned 38 percent.

Florida District Eight is situated in Central Florida and includes part of Orlando — a big metropolitan city that tends to vote Democratic. But the district also contains a long stretch that runs as far as north as Ocala and as far south as Celebration, picking up small towns that tend to vote for Republicans.

In 2008, Grayson won the seat with 52 percent of the vote. His opponent, Republican Ric Keller, was running for his fifth term. Obama carried the district that year, but President George W. Bush had won it in both 2000 and 2004.

Even though District Eight was Grayson’s last seat, Grayson isn’t sure he’ll be running for that same seat again.

Florida officials are currently gearing up to redraw congressional district lines next spring. Because of two successful ballot initiatives, the state Legislature does not have the ability to gerrymander districts when it meets, and many have predicted that this may provide a handful of more Democrat-friendly districts.

Central Florida, in particular, is likely to change more than most areas. According to new Census data, the population in Central Florida counties (Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Volusia) increased by 541,000 residents from 2000 to 2010. Orange County, specifically, grew by 28 percent. It is very likely the area will gain a new congressional seat.

As of now, there is no telling which district might be best suited for Grayson’s comeback attempt. In Florida, congressmen and congresswomen do not need to reside in the district they wish to represent.****

Todd Jurkowski, Grayson’s campaign spokesperson, tells The Florida Independent the campaign is keeping a close eye on the redistricting process.

Jurkowski says Grayson is looking to run for “any seat that represents the metro-Orlando area.” He says that Grayson has kept in contact with many of his former constituents from District Eight and hopes to represent the area once more.

Grayson announced he was running for Congress again in early July, which made him one of the first in Florida to file for 2012. Grayson had already raised nearly $100,000 before filing the paperwork.

Despite a well-funded and energetic campaign to keep his seat in 2010, Grayson received criticism for an ad comparing Webster to a member of the Taliban. Grayson’s “Taliban Dan” ad attacked Webster for what Grayson claimed were his extreme fundamentalist religious views on women’s rights and abortion.

The ad featured a woman’s voice saying:

Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us. Webster tried to deny battered women medical care, and the right to divorce their abusers. He wants to force raped women to bear the child. Taliban Dan Webster. Hands off our bodies and our laws.

Many say that the ad “backfired” on Grayson, but his campaign maintains that the real reason Grayson, along with many other Democrats, lost in 2010 was weak turnout.

“The reason he lost in 2010 was because Democrats didn’t vote,” Jurkowski says. Because President Obama will be running for reelection in 2012, turnout for Democrats could be significantly higher than in 2010.

Aside from the media storm surrounding some of Grayson’s more incendiary comments, his campaign notes that the candidate has been a constant advocate for progressive causes. Grayson supported a tax increase for wealthy Americans — despite being among richest members of Congress. He also called on the Florida Chief Justice to halt “foreclosure mill” cases, which involved three law firms that were scrutinized for possibly carrying out illegal foreclosures in 2010.

“He needs to run to help save this country,” Jurkowski says. “Florida needs more Democrats. … It needs more progressives.”

Ed. note: This report is part of a collaboration with WNYC’s It’s a Free Country to cover the 25 most captivating 2012 congressional races around the country. To read past entries in the series, click here and here.

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