Alan Grayson’s decision to run for the US Senate opened up his congressional seat. While several candidates are in the race from a fundraising and support perspective, two serious candidates have emerged, State Senator Darren Soto and Susannah Randolph. The Grayson legacy in the district is a difficult one to analyze because from some perspectives the tension between those who believe the area should be represented by a Hispanic/Latino in Congress and those who want to see continued representation from a progressive that will fight some of the same battles that Grayson did.
In an election year where the party is split between progressive and accommodationist wings, this primary is setting up as a battle between those differing views of how the party and its elected officials should serve in public office.
Senator Soto has arguably the most conservative voting record of any Democratic state legislator who has been in office since before the 2012 reapportionment. His record prior to the 2016 Legislative Session was a contradiction of this as he voted a far more liberal line. But given the extensive history of conservative votes Soto has cast, he clearly has made a political judgement that the electorate in this district’s primary skews leftward and thus has tried to adjust record accordingly.
Soto’s leftward lurch whether genuine notwithstanding he does give institutional centrist-leaning Democrats a dream candidate. Soto’s Hispanic origin and willingness to play ball with business interests and the school choice lobby gives those that want to see the party more pragmatic and corporate-friendly a potential superstar spokesperson who is young and ethnic. Soto’s nomination would be a dream for many of those interests within the party and has led the centrist New Democratic Coalition to endorse Soto. Soto was able to make significant DC contacts even skipping work from time to time this past session to visit the capital in order to cultivate party and beltway insiders. Soto continues to have lots of institutional support with the formal endorsement of several of his legislative colleagues who aren’t bothered by his previous votes or perhaps agree with them.
On recent fundraising swing through southeastern Florida, Soto was able to raise money from the usual institutional Democratic sources in the area. Lobbyists cozy with business interests, political insiders and those connected to developers and the sugar industry. Those who have appreciated Soto’s voting record through the years continue to contribute to his campaign and political efforts.
The other leading candidate Susannah Randolph has had lots of fundraising success and has secured the endorsement of various liberal groups including the Congressional Progressive Caucus, People for the American Way (PFAW) and various labor unions. PFAW President Michael Keegan said of Randolph when the organization endorsed her last month, “Her leadership in her community shows that she has the experience it takes to stand up for critical issues like public schools, women’s rights and LGBT equality while holding big corporations accountable.” Progressive activists throughout the state also have flocked to Randolph’s campaign though some remain focused on Grayson’s Senate run.
The District 9 primary will be an interesting test study into whether the progressive wing of the Democratic Party can win primaries at this level and also if a nearly decade-long voting record that is out of step with the Democratic Party ultimately dooms Soto who is considered a rising star in the party. While Alan Grayson is running statewide it’s also worth noting his shadow isn’t looming as largely over this race as some would have anticipated even with his future wife one of the less fancied candidates in the primary. How that reflects on Grayson’s attempts to be nominated statewide by the Democratic Party is anyone’s guess.
We will continue to monitor this race as we get closer to the August primary.