TALLAHASSEE — Firebrand Democrat Alan Grayson says he wants to return to Congress in 2018, but is not yet saying which seat he’s running for.
“Yes, this cycle is what I’m looking at,” Grayson told POLITICO Florida in a telephone interview Monday. “But Florida law says I can run anywhere.”
When pressed for specifics, he said: "TBD."
The Orlando Democrat has never stopped accepting online contributions since leaving Congress in 2016 to run for the U.S. Senate. He has $556,000 cash-on-hand, and has continued receiving small-dollar contributions since his loss in the Democratic primary to Patrick Murphy. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio defeated Murphy in the general election.
Grayson in recent months has again started actively soliciting online contributions from the same small-dollar base that in the past helped make him a dangerous fundraiser. During the last three months of 2017, Grayson raised nearly $60,000, all small contributions donors across the county.
“You show your courage everyday by standing up for progressive values. Shouldn’t your member of Congress do the same?” read a Grayson Twitter fundraising appeal sent Monday.
It linked to ActBlue, an online fundraising service used by many Democratic candidates. He raised nearly $23,000 through the service during the final fundraising quarter of 2017. It was a sign that Grayson was again actively reviving a fundraising operation.
“For a while after the Senate race, people just kept contributing to my campaign,” he said. “But we’ve again engaged.”
Central Florida Democrats for more than a month have been buzzing with talk that Grayson might run against his Democratic successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Michael Soto, who beat Grayson’s wife and his former aide in the 2016 Democratic primary when the former congressman decided to run for U.S. Senate.
Grayson has done nothing to quiet those rumors about challenging Soto. And Grayson has suggested that he still sees Florida’s 9th Congressional District as his in the event he runs against Soto.
“I think that in that circumstance, it would [be] a Democrat challenging me,” he told The Orlando Sentinel last month.
Soto told POLITICO Florida that he’s focusing on his reelection, regardless of who might challenge him.
"I just got done knocking doors for petitions for my reelection today. I was met with overwhelming support by voters. We focus on running a strong race with a inspiring message regardless of who runs,” he said.
Democratic insiders say that, while Soto — the first Puerto Rican from Florida elected to Congress — has an advantage in the heavily Hispanic seat, he’s not raising the money that might be necessary to fight off Grayson, who has a national profile and fundraising base as well as substantial personal wealth.
“Soto’s problem is that he is not fundraising well,” a Central Florida Democrat monitoring the House seat said, noting that Soto’s cash on hand at the end of the last financial quarter was about $290,000 compared to Grayson’s more than $550,000.
“His problem is that Alan is not only ahead on [cash on hand], but Alan can toss another million on top of that,” the Democrat said.
Carlos Guzman, who heads the Central Florida nonprofit group Latino Leadership, said Grayson isn’t letting others know much about his plans.
“I think he’s going to run. But when and where is the question. I don’t know,” Guzman said.
Grayson is still a controversial figure. During his campaign for U.S. Senate, he was dogged over questions about his hedge fund and abuse allegations from his ex-wife, which Grayson denied. His campaign committee also faced auditing questions from the Federal Elections Commission. Earlier this month, PolitiFact, which had planned to use Grayson as part of a bipartisan duo of fact-checkers, decided to sever ties with him due to his controversial reputation.