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Grayson, 54, first used a fat campaign war chest and high-name recognition to pre-empt the Democratic field in the new, strongly Hispanic district he announced for shortly after his 2010 election loss. The winner of the GOP primary (in which few Hispanics voted) was an underfunded, ultra-conservative, Anglo trial lawyer named Todd Long — a twice failed congressional candidate with a DUI conviction who had to be removed by police from a Central Florida mall and in 2007 was found passed out on the sidewalk in Tallahassee. A vociferous opponent of immigration reform, he supported English as an official language and made disparaging remarks about undocumented workers.
“Todd Long is too extreme for Central Florida,” Grayson crowed in a post-primary press release exulting in his opponent’s victory. “He wants to raise the retirement age to at least 70, privatize Social Security, dismantle Medicare, eliminate federal student loans and drill for oil in Florida, both offshore and onshore.”
Some Republican Party decision makers appeared to agree. Long was quietly elbowed off the stage when GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan spoke at a campaign event in Orlando. Several days later, Long told a conservative radio interviewer that he felt like he had been thrown overboard by the Republican Party. By the closing days of the campaign, Long was reduced to waving signs at intersections.
Long also made religion a conspicuous part of his campaign. He told the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel that Grayson was “the most anti-Christian congressman probably we’ve ever had in our history.” In a subsequent interview with Hispanic radio, Long charged that his opponent wanted to “kick Christianity out of this country.” Notwithstanding the slur, Grayson agreed to debate Long on Rosh Hashanah. (“I’m no Sandy Koufax,” he acknowledged.)
A graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Grayson made several small fortunes before entering politics: in the telecommunications boom, on Wall Street and in his law practice, suing defense contractors for Iraq War profiteering. He largely self-financed his successful 2008 campaign and, once elected, built a national following among the Democratic base through speeches — which some considered outrageous — on the House floor.