Florida state House Speaker Larry Cretul is seriously considering a challenge to Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, a development that could shake up the race and provide the outspoken Orlando-area freshman with a top-tier GOP opponent in one of the nation’s most competitive House seats.
Four other Florida Republicans have expressed interest in the race — Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, state Sen. Andy Gardiner, former state Sen. Daniel Webster and state Rep. Steve Precourt — but Cretul has suddenly emerged as a leading contender after spending two days in Washington meeting with officials from the National Republican Congressional Committee and Republicans in the Florida delegation.
Cretul told POLITICO that he is leaning toward running and is very close to making a final decision.
“I’m giving the race some serious and strong consideration for District 8, and I’ll be coming to a conclusion awfully quick,” said Cretul.
After years of obscurity as a low-key member of the Florida House, Cretul made headlines in March when he ascended to the speakership in the wake of scandal surrounding former Speaker Ray Sansom, who was indicted on corruption charges.
Cretul quickly won praise for his ability to bring the GOP caucus together during a time of upheaval and for his willingness to compromise on divisive issues. A seven-year legislative veteran, he is term-limited from running for reelection — making a congressional campaign a logical next step.
Washington Republicans believe his agreeable and low-key demeanor would provide a vivid contrast to Grayson, who has drawn attention for his outspoken style and ideological edge.
“Floridians know Larry Cretul as a workmanlike public servant who understands that getting things done means not worrying about grabbing headlines,” said NRCC spokesman Andy Sere. “Alan Grayson is the obnoxious guy at the dinner party who ends up embarrassing the poor soul who invited him. If Speaker Cretul gets into this race, the contrast couldn’t be clearer.”
The NRCC views Grayson as one of its leading targets and has already aired two radio ads attacking him for supporting President Barack Obama’s stimulus legislation.
Despite Cretul’s recent high profile, there’s still some doubt as to whether he represents the GOP’s best chance to knock off Grayson. His base of support is in Marion County — which is outside the district’s suburban Orange County population center — and he could take some heat from his party’s base for agreeing to nearly $2 billion in fee and tax increases in the state’s recently passed budget.
With several experienced and well-known candidates also mulling over campaigns, national Republicans aren’t expected to attempt to clear the field for Cretul.
“There’s no question his biggest challenge is the part of the district he’s from. He’s got a geographic challenge more than anything,” said Florida Republican consultant John Dowless.
“The base of the vote in the general is from Orange County, and I think they have to give him enough of the vote to pull him over the top.”
Cretul says his solid conservative voting record would give him an advantage in a GOP primary.
“I’ve always been on the conservative side — fiscally and beyond that. I’m not someone who will be reinventing myself. I have a record to show,” Cretul said.
In an interview with POLITICO, Precourt praised Cretul as a strong leader and said it’s unlikely that the two of them will be on the same primary ballot.
“Larry is a wonderful man, and he’s been a good, stable speaker of the Florida House when we needed one,” Precourt said. “And he and I are going to spend a lot of time talking to each other over the next week, working this out.”