After Grayson Storm, GOP Looks to Settle on Candidate

Posted October 7, 2009 at 6:18pm

Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D) campaign team exuded an air of confidence Wednesday as another day passed without Republicans settling on a candidate to challenge the controversial freshman in Florida’s battleground 8th district.

“They’re scared,— Julie Tagen, a senior adviser to Grayson’s campaign, said in an e-mail. “The reason that no one has joined the race against Congressman Grayson is because they know the Democratic Party and the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] will beat them to a pulp.—

Ever since Grayson thrust himself into the national spotlight last week after claiming on the House floor that the GOP wants the sick to “die quickly,— Republicans in Washington, D.C., and Florida have injected a sense of urgency into their 8th district recruiting effort.

Some party insiders hoped that a consensus GOP challenger was going to emerge early this week, and when Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty took himself out of consideration for the race Monday night, it appeared the chips were starting to fall into place. But Republicans were still playing the waiting game as of Wednesday afternoon.

The man who now appears to be causing the bottleneck is former state Sen. Dan Webster (R), a one-time U.S. Senate candidate who many believe could clear the primary field.

Webster has said little publicly except that he would make a decision this week.

State Rep. Steve Precourt (R) said Tuesday that he “firmly— believes Webster will join the race.

Precourt, a Webster ally who has also been mentioned as a possible 8th district candidate, said his assumption was based on the fact that Webster “has not said ‘no’ and it’s not like him to let it go this long— unless he was making a serious commitment.

Precourt added that it would be preferable to have a candidate with a track record in elected office.

Adding to the speculation about Webster on Wednesday were reports in Florida papers that danielwebsterforcongress.com had been registered.

A House Republican aide in Florida said Wednesday that Webster “is aware the environment and time to hop in is now … but [he] will only do it if [his] family agrees with him.—

Besides Webster, state Sen. Andy Gardiner (R) is mentioned as a possible candidate.

Gardiner and Webster could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Another name that has surfaced this week is Tim Seneff, a businessman who serves as president of CNL Financial Group in Orlando.

Florida sources note that Seneff has deep pockets and that his family name is known in local real estate and political circles.

Crotty spoke highly of Seneff in an interview with a local news outlet Wednesday.

“Tim Seneff is a young man who can go probably be very competitive with Congressman Grayson, who’s known for spending his own money,— Crotty told Central Florida News 13.

Other lower-tier Republican candidates include former pilot Dan Fanelli and attorney Tico Perez.

Republican operatives admitted this week that in recent months there hadn’t been a sense of urgency to 8th district recruiting efforts because Republicans were content to give Grayson — who is becoming known for his controversial outbursts — the stage to himself in August and September.

“There was some discussion in Orlando about, ‘Let’s not change the story line … just yet,’— one Florida GOP operative said.

But with the media frenzy that he stirred up last week and the fact that Grayson has used that incident to gin up more than $100,000 in donations from liberal donors, a sense of urgency has developed.

“There’s a significant opportunity to raise money across the country; [Grayson’s] taking advantage of that,— another Republican consultant said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has set up a separate 8th district candidate fund, but the operative acknowledged that it’s easier to promote and raise money for an individual than it is for a faceless fund.

A DCCC spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on Grayson’s campaign adviser’s assessment that Republicans were “scared— and that the DCCC would join Grayson in beating Republicans “to a pulp.—

But the NRCC was certainly willing to weigh in.

“Alan Grayson’s delusions of grandeur have clearly trickled down to the staff level,— NRCC spokesman Andy Sere said of Tagen’s statement Wednesday. “The moment a strong challenger enters the race against him, his aspirations for a second term will ‘die quickly,’ as they say.—

Nathan L. Gonzales contributed to this report.