Yet few of those who knew him and worked with him were shocked by his precipitous downfall on Aug. 30
. Nor were there many tears shed among the cautious and the well-mannered of both parties who always resented him. The prevailing reaction among them was that he got what was coming to him.
Grayson, 58, a self-made tech millionaire with three Harvard degrees, and an effective trial lawyer who dogged Iraq defense contractors for profiteering during the Iraq War, was the engine of his own destruction. On Capitol Hill, his slashing rhetoric made him enemies not only among his Republican and conservative opponents, but among his Democratic and progressive allies.
Although to be fair, Grayson was also the engine of his own creation. Thanks in large part to happenstance – and seemingly against all odds – he created himself as a warrior and standard-bearer for the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda.
In politics, timing can be everything. During the 2009 debate over Obamacare, when the drive for health care reform seemed hopelessly blocked by Congressional Republicans, a heretofore obscure Democratic freshman
took to the floor of the House of Representatives, standing next to an easel. In a few minutes, Alan Grayson characterized the Republican plan for health care as not to get sick or, if you did, to “Die quickly!” Frustrated Democrats around the country rejoiced.
That brief diatribe instantly launched Grayson into the media spotlight. Luck favors the prepared, and like a good litigator he was ready. He exploited his media lightning strike with an immediate appearance CNN, followed by numerous shots on MSNBC and Bill Maher’s “Real Time.”
Grayson relished his outrageousness, comparing Dick Cheney to a vampire and the Tea Party to the KKK. He demonstrated that he was not afraid of a fight, or of hard-edged rhetoric. “Is it a necessary element of this job that I take shit from people?” he asked me years ago in his Capitol Hill office.
In Florida, where feckless Democrats have consistently gone down to defeat with “me-too” candidates, this was bracing stuff. Grayson’s continuing media presence enabled him to build a national fundraising base. More than 150,000 of these supporters fueled his Senate campaign, with small contributions – averaging under $20.73 – a record for any Congressional campaign this year.
But, through his arrogance, he destroyed a real chance this year to join Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the U.S. Senate. And the ironic thing was that, up until the last month of the campaign, he might have won.
Riding Grayson’s red-white-and-blue campaign bus around the state in the weeks before the primary offered an insight into the love-hate relationship Florida voters have with Alan Grayson, and how he ran out of gas.
On a sweltering August afternoon, the beleaguered candidate, wearing a wilting charcoal chalk-stripe suit, a stars-and-stripes tie, and garish gray-and-yellow snakeskin cowboy boots, is desperately trying to change the subject.
Charges of domestic abuse from the second of his three wives exploded during at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July, where 15,000 reporters had gathered, and the allegations have since dominated media coverage of what New York
magazine called “the second-most-bizarre campaign of this election season.”
Standing on the grass in front of the Palm Beach County Courthouse with fellow senatorial candidate Pam Keith, Grayson argues to a handful of reporters that the low-polling Keith (who, ironically, would finish just a few points behind Grayson in the primary) should be included in any future Democratic debates with the third and favored candidate in primary, Palm Beach Congressman Patrick Murphy.
“Let’s face it,” says Grayson, in his standard attack mode, “Patrick is an empty suit.” A few minutes later he describes Murphy as “a faker and a con artist,” and “a sock puppet,” motivated by “entitled arrogance.”
But just feet away from the curbside press conference, Grayson’s campaign manager and communications director are huddling anxiously over their phones. They are getting the news that Murphy, citing the domestic abuse charges, had just backed out of the two men’s lone scheduled debate, on Orlando’s WFTV. The move eliminates one of their candidate’s few remaining opportunities to score a come-from-behind knockout blow against Murphy.
So it goes on Grayson’s statewide bus campaign, which could be heading for the end of the road for the firebrand candidate.
In the end, the surprise wasn’t so much that Alan Grayson’s barn-burning campaign for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination imploded. It was that he got as far as he did, using a moderate Central Florida swing district in 2008 as his launch pad. Thanks to a committed Orlando-area coalition, and a broad, equally devoted following among his party’s progressive base, this brash, arrogant, unabashedly left-wing New York Jew, the son of two public school teachers and union activists, became a national figure over the eight years that followed.