At its core, Alan Grayson's problem has always been Alan Grayson. It's not his considerable intellect, not his impressive résumé (three degrees from Harvard!), not even his strident, bombastic liberalism, but him: For lack of a better term, he's an asshole. Or, more specifically, he's an abrasive, thin-skinned egomaniac who can't take criticism or let go of a grudge, someone who imagines himself as being on the vanguard of a progressive revolution but who finds himself subsumed in bizarre scandals and abandoned by his own party's leaders – not because they're the Establishment, man, but because they think he's a loudmouthed weirdo.
In short, he's a guy who, on a visceral level, is very hard to like, even if you agree with most of his positions (as I do). And if Aug. 30 is a total washout for him (as I suspect it will be), he'll have no one to blame but himself.
A quick history: I first met Alan a decade ago, when he walked into the Weekly's office, seemingly entitled to our unfettered support in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Ric Keller. He was the progressive candidate for Congress. We were the progressive newspaper. Why weren't we doing more to help him? He bristled when we made fun of his goatee – which he eventually shaved off – and professed to the last unshaken confidence that of course he would win the 2006 Democratic primary, and win easily. (He lost by 12 percentage points to Charlie Stuart, who lost to Keller despite a Democratic wave.)
Grayson ran again two years later – a smarter, more disciplined operation this time around. In a rematch, he beat Stuart by 21 points, then beat a way-past-his-expiration-date Keller 52-48. He went to Washington, branded himself the "congressman with guts" and accused Republicans of wanting sick people to "die quickly." Then he ran for re-election and tried to label his opponent, Dan Webster, "Taliban Dan." There were nuggets of truth – Republicans' calculated obstinacy on health care reform was pathetic, and Webster is to this day a first-order Bible thumper – but the caustic, proto-Trumpian manner in which Grayson said these things turned off more than just the wringing hands of the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board. He lost by 18 points.
In fairness, he was doomed no matter what; a lot of Dems in tough districts got trounced in 2010. And to his credit, after a round of redistricting opened up a solidly blue congressional district in 2012, Grayson got back in the game, whipping a lawyer named Todd Long by 25 points. But this election, too, opens a window into Alan being Alan: Even though victory was never in doubt, Grayson still accused Long of being an alcoholic wife-beater. Again, nuggets of truth – Long had a DUI and, in a divorce filing, his ex-wife called him "abusive and manipulative," though she never alleged physical violence – were buried in an unnecessary avalanche of overkill.
Fast-forward to 2016: Grayson has decided he's due a promotion. Like in 2006, his primary opponent, Patrick Murphy, is a moderate (a former Republican, in fact). Also like 2006, every sign indicates that Grayson is going to lose. The Real Clear Politics average has Grayson down more than 8 points, though there haven't been any particularly recent public surveys. More important, the Democratic Party has aligned solidly behind Murphy, with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid all endorsing Murphy – unusual in a contested primary.
Why did they do that? Simple: They don't like Grayson. They think he's an embarrassment. They want him to go away.
It's not just that he has become embroiled in a bizarre – and nasty, and public – divorce/annulment/custody fight. Nor is it that his ex-wife of 20 years has accused him of domestic violence, including one incident in which he allegedly "hit her on the back of the head with a large rock." (Grayson denied the allegations, but two liberal groups pulled their support anyway.) Nor is it that the New York Times reported in February that Grayson, the anti-corporate populist, had run a Cayman Islands hedge fund while in Congress, in which he encouraged investors to, as the Times put it, "capitalize on the unrest he observed in the world, and to take particular advantage when there was 'blood in the streets.'" Nor is it that, when a reporter dared ask about these things, Grayson snapped, "Are you some kind of shitting robot? You go around shitting on people?"
It's all of these things. It's Alan being Alan. Or rather, it's Alan being incapable of not being Alan. As progressive as his politics are – and as smart as he is, no denying that – this is his Achilles' heel. And come next Tuesday, it may prove his undoing.
Other primary thoughts
Alan Grayson’s new wife, Dena – they married in May – is, of course, running to replace him. As accomplished as Dena Grayson, a biochemist and medical doctor, is in her own right, the circumstances of her campaign feel … unsettling. Besides, Alan’s former district director, Susannah Randolph, who’s also running for the seat, has an unrivaled track record of working for progressive causes – certainly better than that of the other contender, limp noodle Darren Soto. Susannah also happens to be one of the smartest, hardest-working and most genuine people I’ve ever met in politics. She would do Central Florida proud in D.C.
Phil Diamond is running for Orange County comptroller, which he was in fact born to do. An accountant and tax lawyer, Diamond distinguished himself on the Orlando City Council as someone unafraid to call bullshit on incentive schemes and developer handouts. (He wouldn’t say bullshit, though; he’s too Midwestern nice for that.) That’s the eagle-eyed watchdog role Martha Haynie has carved out since 1989; Diamond – a thoughtful and thoroughly decent human being who is generally great at policy and bad at politics (as evidenced by his 2012 mayoral bid) – is her ideal successor.
The Democratic Party’s full-throated backing of Val Demings – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee endorsed her in February, and she got a speaking slot alongside Nancy Pelosi at last month’s Democratic National Convention – strikes me as odd. I have nothing against Demings, though the former police chief did sometimes go easy on abusive Orlando cops back in the day. But her challengers – especially Bob Poe, a former Florida Democratic Party chairman, but also state Sen. Geraldine Thompson – deserved better than to be elbowed out by party elites. After all, it’s not a question of electability; given the way this district is drawn, whoever wins the primary is going to win the general.