On the campaign trail last year, Democrat Alan Grayson made much of his work as a lawyer pursuing a one-man crusade against contractor fraud and war profiteering in Iraq.
Now, six months after Graysons upset victory over four-term Rep. Ric Keller (R) in Floridas 8th district, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said Grayson has carved out a niche in Congress that will serve him well in what is sure to be a tough re-election campaign.
I think he has gotten off to a very good start in sort of cementing this image that hes the guy whos out there as a watchdog for taxpayer dollars, Van Hollen said of Grayson in an interview at DCCC headquarters last week.
Democratic leaders have certainly done their part to help Grayson further that image.
The Florida freshman sponsored a measure that passed the House last month that sought to curb employee bonuses at companies that received federal bailout money.
As a member of the Financial Services Committee, hes been a real watchdog for public dollars, and thats been a big part of his focus since hes been a Member of Congress, Van Hollen said.
Grayson, who dumped more than $2 million of his own money into his campaign last year, earned donations from a few notable party leaders in the first quarter of the year, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
But Republicans, eager to win back a district they believe is rightly theirs, are hoping to paint a very different image of Grayson.
Van Hollen must be referencing someone else because the real Alan Grayson has a record of irresponsibly voting for every massive spending bill that has been placed in front of him, National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said.
In the GOP narrative, the outspoken Grayson is far too liberal for a district that had long supported conservative Republicans on social and economic issues.
While Democrats have an edge in voter registration in the district, Republicans attribute the surge in Democratic voters last year more to President Barack Obamas presence on the ballot than anything Grayson did. Obama carried the district by 5 points, four years after President George W. Bush won it by 10 points.
Always a volatile region politically, central Florida appears to be shifting slightly in the Democrats direction. But Obama wont be on the ticket in 2010, although that ballot will feature what should be a heated open-seat Senate race.
Already, Todd Long, the conservative activist who almost beat Keller in the 2008 GOP primary, is running again, and other potential Republican candidates include Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, state Speaker Larry Cretul, ex-state Sen. Daniel Webster and state Sen. Andy Gardiner.
In recent weeks, Republican bloggers have made much of the fact that Grayson hired a prominent liberal blogger as his senior policy adviser earlier this year. And last Thursday, the Florida Republican Party attacked Grayson for his ties to the left-wing community organizing group ACORN. The news release pointed to a YouTube.com video in which a woman described as a Grayson staffer describes Grayson as the Congressman for ACORN.
Pointing to the ACORN incident and an especially heated interview Grayson gave to Fox News last month, Burgos said the freshman Congressman has been a disservice to his constituents and in just four months has already been in a number of embarrassing situations.
Grayson spokesman Todd Jurkowski called the ACORN video and subsequent release a silly, dirty trick by Republican operatives.
Whats the scandal here? Jurkowski said. One of Congressman Graysons primary goals is to provide basic needs and keep people in their homes. ACORN is a [Housing and Urban Development Department]-approved housing counselor. He supports any organization who shares his priorities.