Two years ago, the Tea Party tidal wave dispatched Alan Grayson, Orlando's outspoken and unabashedly liberal freshman congressman, from office, following a rancorous campaign in which Grayson – never one for subtlety – used selectively edited video and hyperbolic imagery to accuse his Republican challenger Dan Webster of being a religious zealot with a medieval ideology toward women. The Orlando Sentinel called him as an embarrassment, and Webster won in a landslide.
Now, Grayson's back, running in a new district carved up specifically for Democrats. He'd raised more than $2.5 million as of July. He got his choice of Republican opponents, too, after he and a Democratic-aligned super PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trashing a presumably more electable alternative in the GOP primary. His rival this November, Todd Long, has reportedly been written off by the National Republican Congressional Committee, has no super PAC coming to his rescue, and has raised a negligible amount of money, according to campaign finance records. By rights, this race should be a cakewalk for Grayson.
And yet, Grayson, the self-branded "congressman with guts," has spent the last couple weeks pointedly attacking Long's character. During a heated exchange at a Tiger Bay Club debate on Sept. 17, for instance, Grayson pointed at Long and said, "If you're gonna ask anyone, 'Are you still beating your wife?' ask him!" The upper-crust Tiger Bay crowd booed.
As Local 6 reported that night, the charge stems from Long's 2011 divorce, in which his wife told him in court that she retained a lawyer because "I felt like you were very abusive and manipulative." (She never, contra Grayson's insinuation, alleged physical abuse.) The next day, as the pair's hour-long interview with the Orlando Sentinel was wrapping up, Grayson interjected with a non sequitur: "Channel 6 reported last night that Todd Long has engaged in abuse against his wife!" The Sentinel editorialists didn't seem to bite.
The day after that, Grayson took to Facebook and the Daily Kos to accuse Long of being "very abusive" to his wife and "having a history of severe alcoholism" – Long was once arrested for DUI – before concluding, "We have to defeat this miscreant."
So why does Grayson seem to be sweating Long, even as a campaign source says his internal polls have him well ahead? One public poll, done by a little-known outfit from St. Petersburg, has Grayson up five points; A newer poll from the pollsters at The Kitchens Group shows Grayson winning with 48 percent to Long's 34 percent.
It's true that Long's 2011 divorce file, parts of which Orlando Weekly has reviewed, isn't flattering. There are a number of allegations and admissions in it that no politician would want to come to light. For instance: Long said that he was broke because, while he was running for Congress as a conservative Republican, he couldn't advertise his work as a personal-injury attorney. His wife also alleged that he took a vacation to South America with a woman who had "big boobs and a bikini," while she and their two kids were "starving and the kids have no food and we don't have a way to pay for our shelter." He also didn't pay two months' child support after his wife refused to sign the settlement agreement he wanted, and told the court that he was $400,000 in debt and was contemplating bankruptcy.
Grayson declined to comment for this story – citing a perceived four-year-old editorial slight he blamed on this writer – and Long had not returned a phone call by press time.
But there are three possible explanations for Grayson's apparent overkill: Perhaps this is just how he campaigns, down and dirty. Or maybe this isn't the blowout everyone assumes and Grayson doesn't want to take anything for granted. Or maybe he just wants to run up the score, a head-on-the-stake warning to potential challengers in 2014.
Regardless, Grayson seems intent on going for the jugular, whether he needs to or not.