Next to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, no Democrat in Congress can bring conservatives’ blood to a boil like the loud-mouthed, crude-insult-sneering Internet comments section in human form, Alan Grayson of Florida.
A regular fixture on MSNBC, Grayson swept into office with the Obama wave in 2008 and immediately stood out among freshmen Democrats for his willingness to say things no other congressman — or perhaps any decent human being — would say. Appearing on the Alex Jones radio program, he called Ben Bernanke’s aide Linda Robertson a “K Street whore.” (That was enough to get Anthony Weiner, then still a New York congressman, to label Grayson “one fry short of a Happy Meal.”) He referred to the American health-care system as a “Holocaust for America.” And perhaps most famously, he asserted, with charts on the floor of the House of Representatives, that the Republican’s health-care plan was for Americans to “die quickly.”
Grayson lost to Republican Dan Webster in 2010 — after Grayson ran ads labeling his opponent “Taliban Dan” — and George Will called his defeat “an act of civic hygiene.”
But redistricting after the 2010 census added two districts to Florida, and the new lines created one in northern Orlando that was not far from Grayson’s old district, reasonably Democratic-leaning (D+4 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index), and heavily minority (43 percent white, 41 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent black). Grayson ran unopposed in the new district and won 62 percent in 2012.
A trio of Republicans are contending for a chance to unseat Grayson: Peter Vivaldi, Carol Platt, and military veteran and conservative blogger Jorge Bonilla. Bonilla is already turning heads in Washington; Representative Pete Sessions (R., Texas), the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2012 cycle, had his congressional reelection campaign donate $2,000 to Bonilla’s campaign on June 15.
Bonilla’s nascent campaign is emphasizing his military service — first the Marine Corps Reserves, then the Navy — and his parents’ migration from Puerto Rico as a symbol of newcomers’ success in living the American dream. But Bonilla is quick to emphasize that if elected, he would bring indisputably conservative views to the major policy issues of the moment.
GERAGHTY: First, the most basic question for all candidates: Why are you running?
BONILLA: The short answer is, I’m running because we can do better. After five years of runaway trillion-dollar deficits, after five years of Obamacare, after five years of stimulus that doesn’t actually stimulate, we’re in serious danger of being the first generation that leaves behind it a diminished America, a diminished country for future generations. We absolutely have to do better.
I believe my life experiences more than adequately qualify me to represent the ninth congressional district in Congress. That’s why I’m running, and that’s why I think that I’ll be the best candidate for Congress in this district.
JIM GERAGHTY: You’re going up against an incumbent who is not your garden-variety Democrat, in a lot of different ways, in Alan Grayson. What does it mean to run against a figure like that, and what unique challenges and opportunities does that present?
BONILLA: He’s a bit of an embarrassment. Alan Grayson is a known quantity. He’s Mr. “Die Quickly,” Mr. “K Street Whore,” Mr. “Knuckle-Dragging Neanderthals.” He recently said, “Republicans don’t want to do anything for brown people.”
He’s a known quantity, a known polarizing figure. I don’t think his politics, nor his rhetoric, nor the policy solutions he champions are actually representative of this district. I think we have a unique opportunity to engage him. Yes, he’s well funded, and he’s an entrenched incumbent. We know this going in.
As I said earlier, I think the sum total of my life experiences uniquely qualify me and equip me to represent the people of this district. Really, I’m the only candidate who can unite all the elements of the conservative movement within this district — who can speak to the tea partiers, Second Amendment activists, to people concerned about Common Core and the quality of education — who can unite all those elements and address the greater electorate of the ninth. It’s a unique opportunity in front of us and a unique challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.
GERAGHTY: I understand you recently received the maximum donation from Pete Sessions. What kind of reception are you getting from the Republican-party leaders in Washington?
JORGE BONILLA: Not just from the leaders in Washington, but we’ve been getting a great reception from everyone. Our candidacy is starting to become a consensus candidacy, one that can speak to all elements of the conservative movement. I will say this about Chairman Sessions, I am grateful for his guidance and for his counsel. He’s been a friend to us and our campaign, and we’re tremendously grateful for that.