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The new 9th District is 43.4% registered Democratic, compared with 28.2% Republican. Hispanics constitute 41 % of the voting-age population but just 22% of registered voters. Grayson bridled at the implication raised in local media shortly after he announced his candidacy for the new district— soon after his 2010 defeat — that he was somehow hijacking a “Hispanic seat.”
In fact, Grayson was largely able to pre-empt any Hispanic candidates in the 2012 Democratic primary, because while in Congress, he assiduously cultivated Central Florida’s largely Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking community. He brought hundreds of thousands of dollars of federally funded Spanish language, education, small business and development programs to the area — and not in just his district.
Grayson also supported issues important to Puerto Ricans, like a referendum on the island commonwealth’s status and on the cleanup of Vieques, the island just off Puerto Rico long used by America’s military for bombing practice. He collected his chits last April, when he was endorsed by the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, a leading civic organization in Puerto Rico that lauded Grayson as a “staunch advocate” of its cause.
It’s clear that this kind of attentiveness to Hispanics will be increasingly crucial for Florida candidates whatever their own ethnic background. The state’s Hispanic population grew by 44% over the last decade, and the Puerto Rican population alone — centered largely in Central Florida — grew by 76%, said Jewett, the University of Central Florida political scientist. A growing percentage of these residents are also actually showing up to vote. Currently 14 % of all registered voters are Hispanic, but they were 17% of the electorate in this past election. Thirty-nine percent are registered as Democrats, 29% as Republicans — a flip on the greater support Republicans enjoyed among members of this ethnic group until 2008.
“The main question about this alliance,” Jewett said, “is whether Hispanic support would stay as strong if a Hispanic Republican were running against an Anglo Democrat, Jewish or gentile.”
At his Salsa Latina victory party, Grayson accepted congratulations from half a dozen local Puerto Rican politicians. Then he pledged to continue his fight for universal health care and to reform tax policy. “Even the filthy rich have to pay their fair share!” he exclaimed, demonstrating, more or less, that some things about Alan Grayson just don’t change.
Contact Mark I. Pinsky at email@example.com