When Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) announced his retirement from Congress this week, it created an open seat for Florida’s 15th District, encompassing Polk County and the northern part of Hillsborough County, including suburban areas east of Tampa. Now that open seat may be attracting a familiar name: former Congressman Alan Grayson.
Two other Florida Republicans, Rep. Thomas Rooney and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have announced their retirements, despite being viewed as relatively safe bets for re-election. Ross also was not expected to have to much difficulty winning in November in his Republican-leaning district — Donald Trump won here by 10 percentage points in 2016 — but this election cycle is shaping up to be a rough and bumpy one for Republicans.
Add in the impact of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announcing that he, too, will not run for re-election, and even a “Republican-leaning” district starts looking a little more vulnerable, as Susan MacManus, a professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel.
MacManus noted that the current political climate had “motivated a lot of long-serving Republicans to get out,” and that Ross’ retirement “could be further affirmation that it’s a really bad year for Republicans and it’s going to be a [Democratic] tsunami.”
And in slithers Alan Grayson, sniffing around to see if there are any opportunities for him.
After an unsuccessful bid in the Democratic primary in 2006 to challenge former Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL), Grayson was first elected to Congress in 2008 from Florida’s 8th congressional district, serving only one term before Republican Daniel Webster defeated him as part of the tea party wave in 2010. Grayson then ran again in 2012, this time from the new 9th district, created as part of redistricting. He was reelected in 2014, then gave up his seat to run for the Senate in 2016, but was defeated by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) in the Democratic primary. Murphy would go on to lose to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in the general election.
“I’m looking at all possibilities,” Grayson told the Sentinelwhen asked if he were considering getting in the race for Ross’ district.
MacManus’ view is that the district is likely too conservative and rural for Grayson’s tastes, “but he may run for it anyway…he’s a risk taker.”
Grayson’s long been rumored to be considering getting back in the political arena, and he has the resources to do it. In addition to his millions of dollars of personal wealth, he is a prolific fundraiser.
As I reported in February, Grayson didn’t let minor details like losing an election and leaving Congress slow down his fundraising, and he had piled up a campaign war chest of over half a million dollars. At that time, Grayson was also openly discussing running again, noting that Florida law allowed him to run for any district.
It’s not just conservatives concerned about the prospect of another Grayson campaign; Florida Democrats have their own reasons to be wary. Scandals have plagued Grayson for years, including ethics investigations into his hedge fund, allegations of domestic abuse and bigamy by his second wife Lolita Grayson during his last divorce, and accusations of campaign finance violations.
When PolitiFact, the political fact-checking project of the Tampa Bay Times, announced in February that they were adding Grayson to their team as a “reader advocate,” the reaction on social media was swift and vicious. Numerous reporters voiced their objection to the idea that Grayson was a trustworthy source, noting that he had shoved and threatened the journalist who had reported on his now ex-wife’s domestic violence allegations. PolitiFact threw up a white flag and dumped Grayson barely two hours after their original announcement.
However, Grayson has shown little sign over the years that any of the criticism affects him, and it is unlikely to be a factor in his decision to run.
“He doesn’t care what people think, including his own party,” Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida professor of political science, said to the Orlando Sentinel in an interview at the beginning of the year. “That endears [him] to some people and drives some people crazy. That’s the nature of Alan Grayson.”
Still, no one — especially competitive, egotistical politicians — likes to lose. If he makes a run for Ross’ now-open seat in the 15th, he would have the advantage of better name recognition than many of the candidates from either side of the aisle who would run, but he has also never represented any part of that district before. Any local politician with ties to the area, whether Republican or Democrat, would find it easy to attack Grayson as an opportunistic carpetbagger.
Grayson still has the option to challenge his fellow Democrat Rep. Darren Soto, currently representing his former 9th district, a prospect sure to cause headaches for Florida Democrats. Soto is definitely more moderate than the firebrand Grayson, but he’s well-liked and has long ties to the Central Florida community, having represented the district in the Florida legislature for years before running for Congress. He’s not an incumbent the Democratic establishment is anxious to dump.
Whatever Grayson’s plans may be, he will have to declare them soon. The deadline for candidate qualifying for Florida congressional candidates is May 4, and the primary will be on August 28.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
[Cross-posted at RedState.]