- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Freshman Rep. Alan Grayson, one of the most outspoken and liberal members of Congress, may be wearing out his welcome in his moderate central Florida district.

In one of the nation’s most closely watched House races, the controversial Democrat trails Republican challenger Daniel Webster by 7 percentage points - 43 percent to 36 percent - in an independent poll released Tuesday by Sunshine State News and conducted by Voter Survey Service.

Also troubling for Mr. Grayson is the 51 percent of voters who hold an unfavorable view of him.

“The only real path to victory for Grayson is to vilify Webster and hope third-party candidates become an alternative choice for the anti-incumbent vote, which is now being split three ways,” said Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service.

And that’s what the incumbent is doing. He’s hammered Mr. Webster in recent weeks, most notably through a scathing new television advertisement that compares him with the Taliban.

The ad, which accused Mr. Webster of opposing women’s right issues while in the Florida Legislature, has drawn national attention and widespread Republican condemnation.

“If the negative stuff is going to work, it’s got to be at least believable, and the Taliban connection is so far out there,” said April Schiff, a Florida Republican strategist. “What are they trying to do? Terrorize the voters, scare them? I’m not sure that works.”

The Taliban ad came a couple weeks after Mr. Grayson portrayed his Republican opponent as a Vietnam War draft dodger. Mr. Webster got an educational deferment from the war and then failed a physical.

Mr. Grayson, who was elected to the House in 2008 from the Orlando area, is no stranger to controversy. When debating a Democratic health care bill on the House floor in 2009 he drew the ire of Republicans when he characterized their alternative as “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

His take-no-prisoners approach may endear him with his liberal base, but it may also fail to resonate with the 24 percent of his Orlando district’s registered independents and has turned into a lucrative fundraising tool for Mr. Webster.

National conservative figures have used the ad to encourage like-minded voters to contribute to Mr. Webster’s campaign. And the St. Petersburg Times reported Monday that Mr. Webster already had received $40,000 from people outraged by the ad.

“There’s a fine line for being brash and in your face when defending liberal policy and just looking like a name-calling third-grade bully,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett. “I’m not saying [Grayson] has crossed the line or not, but in the mind of some voters he probably has.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee - the fundraising arm of House Republicans - has placed a big target on Mr. Grayson, committing $817,000 for ads supporting Mr. Webster.

Yet most political experts and pollsters say the race still is too close to call. Two minor candidates, including one from the “tea party” movement, collectively are polling 9 percent and could siphon support away from Mr. Webster.

“If that doesn’t happen, Webster wins this thing,” Mr. Lee said. “For [Mr. Grayson], the anti-incumbent vote has to be split three ways, that’s the only real path to eking out a victory.”

And while Mr. Grayson’s unconventional style and uncompromising positions may be too much for some voters in a district considered moderate to slightly right-of-center, his strong base of supporters and healthy campaign war chest are expected to keep him in the race.

“For Democrats in swing districts, their best hope is to be moderate, sort of pro-business, and he’s not doing that, he’s sticking to his guns and his liberal progressive positions and personal attacks on his opponents,” Mr. Jewett said. “We’ll see if it works or not.”

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