ORLANDO – The newest congressional district in Florida, which now features one Democrat and four Republicans, is already being distinguished in one way: one candidate is running away in the fund-raising department.
“Grayson swamps Republican field,” came the headline in a new press release by Alan Grayson, the only Democrat running in the state’s newly-created 9th Congressional district.
Created by the state Legislature this year to reflect Florida’s population growth in the past decade, the new district takes in east Orange County, part of Polk County, and all of Osceola County. It’s become known for having one of the highest percentages of Hispanic residents, about 40 percent, of any congressional district in the state.
Grayson is the former congressman from the state’s old 8th Congressional District, which had covered parts of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties. Grayson won in 2008, defeating Republican Ric Keller, but he lost in 2010 to Republican Dan Webster.
While Grayson is running unopposed on the Democratic side, Republican voters will decide in the Aug. 14 primary election among four candidates: Osceola County Commission Chairman John Quiñones, Osceola School Board member Julius Melendez, Orlando attorney Todd Long, and Polk County businessman Mark Oxner of ChampionsGate.
Although Grayson failed to secure a second term, the fact that he remains popular with liberal and Democratic interest groups was on display in his latest fund-raising totals. The Grayson camp put out a notice that their superior fund-raising operation demonstrates that he is “the overwhelming favorite to win in November.”
The financial disclosure for the 2nd quarter of 2012 shows Grayson raised nearly eight times as much money this cycle as all the Republican candidates in the race combined.
“The fund-raising advantage is just one reason why several media publications have described Grayson’s campaign as ‘all but guaranteed’ and a ‘virtual slam-dunk,’ ” the Grayson camp noted in its release.
The candidates’ fund-raising numbers were posted on the Federal Election Commission’s website, and shows that Grayson raised $2,784,575 in this cycle. In comparison, Quinones brought in $156,558, Melendez got $94,680, Oxner took in $88,587, and Long had the lowest fund-raising total, $29,457.
Long has run for Congress twice before in the old 8th Congressional District, losing the GOP primaries in 2008 to Keller and in 2010 to Webster.
Still, Grayson said he expects Long to win the primary next month – and to lose in November.
“Todd Long is clearly too conservative for this district,” Grayson said. “I guess that after three campaigns, people are finally starting to realize that his support of the FairTax, his approval of the Ryan budget to cut Medicare, and his endorsement from (former GOP presidential candidate) Herman Cain make him nothing more than a tool of the right wing.”
Political analysts are not as convinced that the race will be a slam dunk for Democrats, even though President Obama carried the new district with 60 percent of the vote in 2008.
President Obama carried Florida in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote over Republican John McCain. This year, Florida is again expected to be one of the premiere battleground states, and one of the closest. The latest Mason-Dixon poll of Florida voters shows Obama with 46 percent of the vote and Republican Mitt Romney with 45 percent.
How the presidential race might impact the congressional races downballot isn’t clear.
The Cook Political Report, by Washington political analyst Charlie Cook, has listed the 9th District race as being a toss up.
The Rothenberg Political Report by political analyst Stuart Rothenberg lists the race as leaning to the Democrats, but potentially more competitive if either of the two Latino candidates wins the Republican primary.
“The Orlando-area district has about 40 percent Hispanic voting age population, and is one Obama won with 60 percent in 2008,” Jessica Taylor wrote for The Rothenberg Political Report. “(President George W.) Bush took it with just over 50 percent in 2004. Those 2004 numbers give Republicans hope.”
Political analyst Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball also lists this race as leaning Democrat.
Melendez said he felt his own fund-raising showed him likely to win the primary.
“We raised the exact amount of money that we need to win the election,” he said. “Our goals have been achieved. We can effectively disseminate our conservative message. From the beginning, our philosophy has been to avoid the waste within our campaign that is so prevalent in government spending. We campaigned on fiscal discipline and responsibility and we’re demonstrating it throughout our campaign.”
Even though he raised less than Quinones, Melendez said he thinks he’s connecting more effectively with voters.
“Not only was Quinones’ fundraising quarter a total disappointment to his campaign, but if you take out the twenty thousand from PACs, the money from outside the district and the money he squeezed from county vendors, we raised the same, except that his level of spending far surpasses ours,” said Jon Arguello, communications director for Melendez for Congress.
Melendez added, “The only number important to me is the number of votes we receive. We have walked thousands of homes and I am confident our tenacity is exactly the kind of blue-collar work ethic that will propel us to victory August 14.”
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