He is the Democrats’ Donald Trump—a brash, base-pleasing, bomb-throwing firebrand unafraid to drop a few verbal hand grenades inside the party’s tent.
But now that Alan Grayson is set to embark on a campaign for Florida’s vacant Senate seat, some Democrats fear that the Orlando-based congressman could complicate Hillary Clinton’s efforts to win a state that has proven crucial to winning the White House.
“I am Alan Grayson’s friend. I am his lawyer. But I don’t support this,” said John Morgan, a Florida attorney and major Democratic donor who recently hosted Hillary Clinton at his home for a fundraiser. National Republicans, he added, “want Alan Grayson as our nominee so that they have something else to use against Hillary.”
What has Hillaryland worried? Well, consider some of Grayson’s bon mots over the years: There was the time he summarized the GOP’s health care plan as “die quickly.” The time he called a female adviser to Ben Bernake “a K Street whore.” The time he accused Republicans of “legislative terrorism.”
Then there is the messy divorce he is going through, complete with allegations of bigamy and domestic violence. (“Gold diggers gotta dig,” he said recently when asked about his estranged wife.) Or the hedge funds he operates out of the Cayman Islands, which, when revealed by a Tampa Bay Times reporter, led Grayson to immediately drop perhaps his best Graysonism to date: “Are you some kind of shitting robot?” he asked the reporter.
Most of the Democratic establishment in Florida and in Washington, D.C., has lined up behind Representative Patrick Murphy, a 32-year-old former accountant (and former Republican) whose sober profile Democrats believe give them a better shot in this swingiest of swing states. Early polls have given leads to both candidates, and while most Florida politicos say that Grayson remains a slight underdog, they caution that he can raise a boatload of money from progressive activists, and can partially at least self-fund. (Grayson has an estimated wealth of $25 million.)
Typically, it is the top of the ticket that impacts how the down-ballot candidates perform, but the fear among Hillary supporters is that Grayson could become their own Todd Akin. Back in 2012, the Missouri Senate candidate said that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” and Democrats tagged Mitt Romney with the comments at every opportunity.
As some Republican stalwarts pushed to get Akin removed from the ballot, Tea Party conservatives rallied behind him. Akin lost, and so, of course, did Romney, even though Romney condemned Akin’s remarks and largely ignored his candidacy.
If Grayson goes Full-Grayson, however, and then goes on to emerge as the Democratic nominee in Florida, Clinton will have no such luxury. Florida is a must-win state for the GOP, and so Democrats are expected to invest heavily there. And this means a lot of rallies headlined by Hillary Clinton.
Will she stand shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who compared the Tea Party to the KKK and the Republican Party to terrorists? If she does so, Republicans have a ready-made attack ad. If she doesn’t, she risks angering the progressive base that rallied behind Grayson, who did not return a request for comment for this story.
“Alan is a loose cannon with a big ego who craves a microphone, and unfortunately, when he finds one, has a propensity to say crazy shit,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic fundraiser who led Hillary Clinton’s Florida finance operation in 2008. “If he becomes the nominee, you can bet that by the time he gets up on stage at a rally Hillary Clinton is going to be in her motorcade as far from there as you can be.”
Pollara and other Florida Dems pointed out, however, that it could be a lot harder to Graysonize Clinton as it was to Akinize Romney. She is, after all, one of the best-known political figures on the planet, one who was has weathered more scandals and gaffes then most politicians face in a lifetime. Can a few stray shitting robots really bring her down? Or, perhaps, Grayson could wind up toning down some of his histrionics, considering the White House could be at stake.
Or perhaps not.
“Alan is going to be Alan,” said Bob Poe, who is also raising money for Hillary. “If he turns out to be a loose cannon he wouldn’t be able to make it out of the primary. But if he does win the primary I think he will be very strong.”
But others aren’t so sure. The only thing they say they can do is work to make sure Murphy wins the Democratic primary, and brace for the Grayson storm if he does not.
“I have been down this road. It would hurt Hillary, it would hurt the rest of our candidates if Alan Grayson becomes the nominee,” said Screven Watson, a political operative and former executive director of the state Democratic Party.
“Light-your-pants-on-fire liberalism is not the key to winning Florida. I know he is exciting, but he has a self-destruct button that he isn’t afraid to push.
“How can we share the stage with him but not be attached to him,” Watson added. “There will be digestive issues to come.”