Alan Grayson: The Counter-Puncher
For all his sense of timing, Grayson also seems to have a self-destructive streak, often taking his rhetoric a half-step too far. He called a former lobbyist, now working for the Federal Reserve, a "K Street whore," not realizing that applying the term to a woman would be taken the wrong way—and require an apology.
In October 2009 members of the House Democratic leadership tactfully suggested that he pick his fights carefully, reminding him that his is a swing district. The issues that got him national attention might not play well at home, especially among independents, they counseled. The advice may not have sunk in, at least not right away. Back in the district, Grayson blew his top when he received a flier from a Tea Party activist who bragged about infiltrating a Democratic training session. Grayson then crashed a Republican county committee meeting at a restaurant not far from his home to denounce the action as a Nixonian dirty trick.
Even fellow Democrats have been targets. In August he called White House press secretary Robert Gibbs "Bozo the Spokesman," and accused him of spreading "Fox News talking points" when Gibbs made disparaging remarks about the party's "professional left." Grayson even demanded that Gibbs be fired.
Grayson can be thin-skinned and holds grudges to the point of vindictiveness. He tried to have a humorously critical Republican blogger investigated by the US attorney general for the trivial offense of misrepresenting herself on her website (mycongressmanisnuts.com) as one of his constituents. Some supporters have fared no better. Several local Democratic party operatives (who declined to be named) report that Grayson's office and campaign maintain a "no hire" list of campaign workers and consultants who have crossed him or fallen short of his standards. Grayson, however, denies that this list exists.
Inexplicably, Grayson also has a propensity to bite the media hands that might feed him. For example, he wrote on The Huffington Post, "The political reporters camped out in D.C. often act like a giant Xerox machine for the fib factory known as the national Republican Party." Grayson denounced Politico as a corporate tool for running articles critical of him. He dismissed Central Florida talk-radio as "hopelessly right wing."
Even erstwhile allies have felt his sharp tongue. Grayson has verbally slapped a succession of public radio interviewers, local and national, accusing one NPR host of being a Republican. He has rejected any questions about his positions that are premised on the conventional wisdom that he is out of step with his district or the national mood. The local alternative weekly newspaper, which endorsed him in 2008, rescinded its backing after Grayson complained about being described in an otherwise favorable profile as "a Washington, D.C., millionaire." As a result, the Orlando Weekly now refers to him as a "Tourette's zombie," "scaaary" and "The Incredible Sulk," and runs a regular sarcastic feature, "What's Up With Alan?"
What happens in Florida's 8th District may send the Democratic Party a strong message for 2012. As Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos wrote in a mid-September fundraising letter on Grayson's behalf, "If a hard-nosed progressive can win in a [previously] Republican district in a tough year for Democrats, then we not only keep a progressive leader in Congress, but we prove America wants Democrats who stand up to Republicans."
The forces publicly arrayed against Grayson are considerable. But his backers are most fearful of a darker threat, a subtle, coded subtext—one that embodies politics, ideology, religion, culture and personality—the old, familiar charge of "cosmopolitanism." That is: "He's not like us; he's not one of us." In ethnically diverse, heavily Jewish South Florida, a campaign theme like that would be laughable. However, in more homogeneous Central Florida, with the help of the area's dominant daily, the Orlando Sentinel (which endorsed Webster in the GOP primary), it could be effective.
On August 23, Grayson raised an additional $261,000 with a local and national "money bomb" drive on the Internet. Still, the next evening, within minutes of Daniel Webster's victory in the Republican primary, Webster had heard from Republican Party officials in Washington, pledging whatever resources it would take to beat Alan Grayson. "This is a target seat," Webster told his election night supporters in the gymnasium of his megachurch. "If the Republicans don't take this seat, they can't take the Congress."