‘I Call It Like It Is’
Florida’s Craziest Liberal Wants to Be a Senator. It’s Nice to Want Things.
Rep. Alan Grayson may be married to a bigamist. He’s compared the Tea Party to the KKK. He also wants to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate—and Republicans couldn’t be more thrilled.
Alan Grayson is prone to making the type of outrageous comments on cable television that would make you squirm if they came from your drunk uncle at a family dinner. He is currently in the middle of a trial to determine if his wife is a bigamist and if they were ever even legally married. The trial is being delayed because her breast implants are leaking. And, besides all that, Grayson is a United States congressman considering a run for Senate.
Grayson, who was just elected to his third term on Capitol Hill, has cast himself as a progressive champion. The Orlando-area Democrat has spent much of his second stint in Congress—he lost in the Tea Party wave of 2010 after his first election in 2008 and then won an open seat in 2012 after redistricting—successfully pushing amendments to advance various left-libertarian issues. As Grayson told The Daily Beast on Wednesday, he passed 31 amendments in the last Congress, more than any other member. He also emphasized his national appeal, noting that he has 116,000 individual donors—the most of any member of the House of Representatives—and that he was able to raise $5 million for his re-election campaign in 2014.
But while Grayson boasts of his legislative successes, he is better known for making bombastic, controversial remarks. He has compared the Tea Party to the KKK, alleged that Ted Cruz was ineligible to run for president, and claimed that the Republican alternative to Obamacare was encouraging the sick to die quickly. He also ran an ad in 2010 in which he compared his Republican opponent to the Taliban.
Yet Grayson sees his history of controversy as an advantage in 2016. “I think they are honest remarks,” he told The Daily Beast. “The reason why my supporters are willing to crawl naked over hot coals to support my campaign and vote for me is because they like the fact that I call it like it is. They don’t have to guess what’s on my mind. When I make a promise, I keep it, and I’m not afraid of anyone.”
Republicans, for their part, seem positively giddy at the prospect of Grayson in a Senate general election. As Rick Wilson, a prominent Republican consultant in Florida, chortled, “He’d be a mixture of Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, and Hannibal Lecter.” While Wilson said Grayson would be nearly unbeatable in a Democratic primary, he gave him little chance in a statewide election in November. Wilson did add the caveat that he could see a path to victory for Grayson “if all the other Republican candidates were found to be part of a child pornography ring.”
Andrea Bozak, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, offered a preview of how Republicans would attack the congressman in a general election: “The word extreme doesn’t even do justice to explain Alan Grayson. Every Democrat candidate would have to answer for his insane statements. His candidacy would be a nightmare for Senate Democrats.”
Grayson, though, said he is confident he’d be a good candidate in a general election with as much as 80 percent of the Hispanic vote. “There’s no other Florida Democrat who has had more support from Hispanics than I have,” he said, adding that he proved his political bona fides by winning by double digits in 2014, “which was a horrible year for Democrats” and by being the “only Democrat to represent downtown Orlando in 40 years.”
The most talked-about alternative for Democrats is second-term Rep. Patrick Murphy, who was elected to Congress in 2012 by beating Allen West on Barack Obama’s coattails. The Palm Beach-area Democrat has built a relatively moderate if undistinguished record on Capitol Hill and would have real difficulty in a statewide primary against Grayson. Others include Gwen Graham, a newly elected congresswoman from north Florida whose father is a former senator and governor, as well as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the current Democratic National Committee chairwoman. Grayson described Wasserman Schultz as the only other Democrat in Florida who has a “large fervent national support base.”
Grayson still has plenty of time to decide on a Senate bid, and he notes there are factors outside of his control, including whether Sen. Marco Rubio will run for re-election, as well as whom the GOP nominates for president. “It’s safe to say that if Jeb Bush is running that he might have coattails in Florida,” Grayson said.
For now, the congressman is content to toil away on Capitol Hill, pushing his agenda amendment after amendment, as he contemplates higher office. And while it may seem an uphill battle for him to become only the fourth Democrat to win a statewide race in the Sunshine State this millennium, a lot stranger things have happened in Florida.