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Republicans Line Up Against Alan Grayson in 'Latino Access' CD 9

February 13, 2012 - 6:00pm

Florida's new 9th Congressional District is designated for "Latino access," but so far, the majority of candidates seeking the Central Florida seat are non-Hispanic.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson appears to have the inside track to the Democratic nomination. Having represented more than a third of the current constituency of CD 9 -- until he was ousted by Daniel Webster in 2010 -- Grayson has the name recognition and the war chest to shut down primary competition and wage a general election campaign.

Adding to Grayson's built-in advantage, the district -- which encompasses Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties -- leans Democratic.

But Republicans aren't lying down.

"It's a Democratic district, but Republicans hold a majority of legislative seats here," says Jim Cook of the Osceola County GOP.

"This is the best chance to win the district. Because of the power of incumbency, if we don't win now, we've lost this seat for good," Cook said.

With 44 percent of CD 9 made up of Hispanics (versus 40 percent non-Hispanic white), at least two Latino Republicans are ramping up campaigns in the district that includes the cities of St. Cloud, Poinciana, Kissimmee and Celebration.

Julius Melendez, an Osceola County school board member, was the first to file.

John Quinones, an Osceola County commissioner and former state representative, says he expects to jump in once the district lines are finalized.

Businessman Mark Oxner is also running, as is Todd Long, who sought the GOP nomination in Grayson's old 8th Congressional District in 2010.

Melendez says he has home-field advantage, graduating from Poinciana High School and Valencia Community College, working in Polk County and, since 2008, sitting on the school board in Osceola, where he lives.

Noting that Puerto Rican voters split almost evenly among Republicans, Democrats and independents, Melendez maintains that "no party has a monopoly on the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida."

Contrasting himself with Grayson, who lives outside the district in the posh enclave of Windermere, Melendez, a National Guardsman who served two tours in Iraq, vows to take down the Democrat with a "grassroots" campaign.

"Grayson was fired once by this district. We're not going to let him get back in," Melendez said.

Quinones sees CD 9 as "a great opportunity" to serve a district that includes nearly 80 percent of the area he represented as a state House member from 2002-2007.

"I know the constituents and they know me. I understand their needs," he says.

Quinones has run well among Hispanics, winning roughly 60 percent of that vote, but he struggled in his county commission race when he narrowly survived the GOP primary.

Oxner, who bills himself as a small-business man with "global scale" experience, is running what he terms an "unconventional" campaign.

Along with congressional candidates in Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut, Oxner posted a controversial YouTube video titled "Turn This Ship Around."

Depicting President Obama as captain of a slave ship heading toward disaster, Oxner's version of the video shows Grayson as a parrot on deck. Amid controversy over its motif, Oxner's clip logged more than 125,000 views in its first week.

Long, a personal-injury attorney, is a self-described "Reagan conservative" and FAIR tax advocate.

"Everyone can agree on how bad Obama is, but no one is talking about budget cuts," says Long, who would abolish the U.S. Department of Education and give the Energy Department five years to "get us off foreign oil."

Whoever emerges from the Republican primary, a GOP strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicts a "savage" general election.

Geoff Ross, a tea party leader, says Melendez is his choice. "He stepped up to the plate first and he has the best shot," Ross said.

One GOP consultant, speaking on background, called Quinones "the most formidable opponent to Grayson."

Others say the field is not set yet, and predict that Armando Gutierrez will enter the race.

Gutierrez, who briefly contended for Grayson's old CD 8 seat two years ago, may have the greatest access to cash and landed several key endorsements last time.

"He raised more money over the [2009] Christmas holiday than some sitting congressmen did all year," observed GOP strategist Brian Graham.

Gutierrez was not available for comment, but Graham said he is "considering" the CD 9 race.

Contact Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

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