Crowded CD 8 Field Relishes a Shot at Alan Grayson
Around the State
Seven Republican candidates are vying for the right to face freshman Rep. Alan Grayson in Central Florida's 8th Congressional District this fall.
Depending on who's talking, the front-runners are seasoned politicians with broad name recognition or outsiders tapping into anti-establishment angst.
State Rep. Kurt Kelly and former Senate President Daniel Webster boast lengthy endorsement lists. Kelly is backed by House Speaker Larry Cretul and U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, along with a host of local officials.
Geographically challenged by living in Marion County at the northern end of the district, Kelly maintains that his "conservative bona fides" as a small-business man and three years in the state Legislature give him the "fire and determination to beat that big mouth (Grayson)."
Parlaying his name recognition and experience with GOP voters, Kelly said, "Our internal poll shows a close race with Webster."
Some conservatives and tea partiers, however, question Kelly's commitment to fiscal restraint, noting his vote for the controversial SunRail project and his flirtation with Internet sales taxes.
Though a relatively late entrant into the race, Webster has lined up dozens of big-name backers, ranging from former Gov. Jeb Bush to U.S. Sen. George LeMieux to new Florida resident and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
Webster is widely viewed as a favorite because of his instant name ID. He served in the Legislature from 1980-2008, and 80 percent of his former Senate district overlaps with the 8th Congressional District.
A respected lawmaker who helped Republicans gain legislative majorities in Tallahassee, Webster said, "Washington is broken and I think I have the wherewithal to fix it."
His first priority -- "turning the (spending) spigot off" -- would seem to resonate in a district that is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, with the remaining 30 percent composed of independents who trend conservative.
But if Webster wins the nomination, some predict that his bold, some say politically incorrect, proposal to trim Social Security benefits will be easily exploited by Grayson.
On the nonestablishment end of the spectrum sit Todd Long and Patricia Sullivan.
Long narrowly lost a 2008 bid to unseat Rep. Rick Keller, who subsequently lost to Grayson. A personal-injury attorney, Long has distributed 30,000 copies of his book, "The Conservative Comeback," to GOP voters in the district.
A tea party adherent, Long characterizes himself as a strict constitutionalist who would work to implement the FAIR Tax (substituting the income tax for a national sales tax) and abolish the Department of Education.
Long's hard line against illegal immigration earned endorsements from Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.
"We're fighting the Republican establishment," Long says.
Long also may be fighting public perception as he carries the baggage of a drunken-driving arrest a decade ago and a more recent incident of disorderly public behavior. His critics argue that such escapades would give Grayson ammunition against Long. Long says his record was known when he ran in 2008 and that it's all behind him.
Sullivan, co-founder of the North Lake Tea Party, was the only candidate to qualify for the race by gathering 5,000 signatures (in lieu of paying a $10,000 filing fee). Her grass-roots campaign is running on what she calls the "sweat equity" of her "Patriot Army."
Sullivan has won four straw polls in and around her home base of Lake County, and she says her volunteer network extends into Orange County, where 70 percent of the district's voters reside.
Campaign observers, noting her thin resume and bankroll, question her ability to reach out districtwide, but Sullivan also could pick up votes simply by being the only female in the primary.
Bruce O'Donoghue is better financed, having been designated one of the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" for his fund-raising efforts.
A leader in the National Federation of Independent Business who previously steered clear of partisan politics, O'Donoghue says, "I don't have any allegiances" -- a not-so-thinly-veiled shot at Webster and Kelly.
Unlike other neophyte candidates, O'Donoghue says he has the ability to bring people together to make decisions.
"We need someone who has thick skin. They don't know what it's like to be in a pressure cooker," he says.
O'Donoghue has needed that thick skin to withstand recent notoriety about his company's IRS lien for $300,000 in unpaid taxes.
Ross Bieling, a local businessman who is self-financing his campaign, berates the "progressive Marxists" in the Obama administration.
He cites his experience in the health-care field to promote more market-based competition. He also would give small companies a "federal tax holiday."
Dan Fanelli, a pilot and Navy veteran, says he wants to bring "honor and dignity" back to Congress and jobs back to Central Florida. A supporter of the FAIR Tax and nuclear power, Fanelli has also taken a hard-line stand on terrorism.
One of his anti-terror ads drew fire from Grayson who branded it racist. Fanelli, in turn, called for Grayson's resignation and received a letter of support from Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or (772) 801-5341.