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Jewish World Review
Oct. 11, 2010
/ 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5771
Trash-talking Democrat faces defeat in Florida
Recently Dan Webster, the Republican running for Congress from Florida's 8th District, got a call from a friend in state politics. Webster's opponent, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, had just run the infamous "Taliban Dan" attack ad, setting off simultaneous waves of revulsion toward Grayson and sympathy for Webster. "Hey, I think this is helping you," Webster's friend told him. "It may be," Webster responded, "but I wouldn't write it into my campaign plan, if I were you. It's no fun to go through."
The ad accused Webster of being a "religious fanatic" trying to "impose his radical fundamentalism" on the United States -- just like the Taliban in Afghanistan. It pieced together snippets of a Webster speech to make it appear, falsely, that Webster admonished wives to submit to their husbands. To top it off, it ended with "Taliban Dan Webster" in Arabic-style script and the warning: "Hands off our bodies, and our laws."
"I was stunned," Webster says of the first time he saw the ad. But whatever pain it caused, the resulting brouhaha has undoubtedly been good for the Webster campaign. There's national interest in the race, a bunch of new volunteers, and money coming in from around the country. The odd thing, of course, is that for all the controversy, the real issue in the 8th District, like everywhere else in the country, is the economy.
Webster, 61, is a businessman whose family has owned an Orlando-area heating and air-conditioning firm for nearly half a century. He has also been a long-time state politician, serving in the Florida House, and later the Senate, from 1980 to 2008. When he left office, he says, he was "happy coasting." But as he watched President Obama and Democrats in Congress pass the economic stimulus, various bailouts and national health care, he began to think about running. Some of his sons opposed the idea, fearing it might hurt the family business. But in the end, Webster says, "They figured that we might not even have a business if we don't do something." So he got in the race.
For all the ugliness, Webster displays no hostility toward Grayson. Ask him the worst thing Grayson has done as a member of Congress, and Webster answers quickly, "He's been a member of the majority." The problem, he explains, is not any single person but what Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have done together. "Collectively, the majority has done nothing to improve unemployment or economic conditions," Webster says. "They've passed a stimulus bill which did not under any circumstances work, and they are on a borrowing and spending spree."
That's standard GOP fare. But to hear Grayson talk, you'd think the most pressing issue of 2010 is not the economy but Dan Webster's views on women's issues. Webster is undoubtedly a social conservative -- pro-life, home-schooler, strong Second Amendment supporter -- and has a record of 28 years in the state legislature to show it. But that's not what this race is about.
If Webster does knock off Grayson, it will be welcome news to those Republicans (and some Democrats) who have come to detest the first-term congressman. Grayson has been involved in so many dust-ups, scrapes and other indignities that it's surprising to realize he has only been in office 20 months. From describing the Republican health plan as hoping the sick will "die quickly" to calling a top official at the Federal Reserve a "K Street whore" to saying of former Vice President Dick Cheney that "blood ... drips from his teeth while he's talking" to "Taliban Dan" -- well, a lot of people in Florida and Washington won't be sad to see him go.
A poll taken by Sunshine State News at the time of the ad controversy showed Webster with a 7-point lead, 43 percent to 36 percent. Barring any unforeseen events, that's likely to hold. The 8th District was Republican for almost 30 years, until the Obama-Grayson victories of 2008. Now it appears to be moving back to the GOP.
Meanwhile, Grayson has taken the "Taliban Dan" ad down, but he's not backing off his attacks. On CNN Wednesday, he referred to Webster, whose full name is Daniel, as "somebody with an 18th century name and a 13th century conception of how women should live in America."
Perhaps he thinks that's a winning argument. But on Nov. 2, recession-weary voters will likely tell Grayson they're tired of the talk -- and of him.
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