Then Grayson announced his decision to run. He’s the famously (or infamously) loudmouthed U.S. representative from Orlando—the guy who, during the healthcare-reform debate said the Republican health plan was “Don't get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.” Grayson has a long history of similarly inflammatory or hotheaded comments, which he says is evidence that he’s willing to fight for his principles. The wealthy liberal is serving his third term, but it’s nonconsecutive—elected in 2008, he was defeated in 2010 and then returned to Congress in the 2012 election.
How big a threat to Murphy is Grayson? That’s a tough call. There’s not a great deal of good polling in the race. Several earlier polls showed a close race. A poll in early July from Gravis Marketing showed Grayson leading Murphy by an astonishing 63-19 margin. It’s probably best not to put too much stock in that result—it’s early, it’s an outlier, and Gravis’s track record is, um, not sterling.
But Grayson has one big advantage: He’s willing to say anything. In particular, he’ll deliver inflammatory quotes left and right about anything and anyone, allowing him to effectively tap into the Democratic id. Or in his own, typically modest words, “Voters will crawl naked over hot coals to vote for me. And that's something that no other candidate in either party can say.” That also means he has strong fundraising potential from the grassroots, though he’s also independently wealthy. His act might play well in a Democratic primary, but could he win a general election in a purple state? The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee seems unconvinced. The DSCC praised Murphy in a statement when Grayson officially entered the race last week, but didn’t even mention Grayson’s name.
Meanwhile, Grayson is in the midst of a messy split from Lolita Grayson, his wife of 25 years. The couple has five children but separated in 2014. She filed for divorce and accused him of domestic violence, a charge on which he was cleared. In response, he sued for an annulment, saying her divorce from a previous marriage was not valid when they wed, making their own union therefore bigamous and invalid. They were near an agreement but then hit a snag, and when asked about it, Grayson replied, “I’ll sum it up for you. Gold diggers gotta dig. That’s all I gotta say.” On Tuesday, however, a judge finally ruled that Alan and Lolita Grayson were never legally married.
(The race to succeed Grayson in the House could be a wild one, too: Among the potential Democratic candidates are Grayson’s district director, his girlfriend, and a state senator favored by the party.)
The danger for Democrats is that Grayson becomes a sort of Todd Akin of the left. Akin, the controversial Missouri representative who won the Republican nomination for Senate in 2012, lost the general election after a series of controversial comments. Like Akin, Grayson has shown he can get elected in his own district, and like Akin, he may even be able to win a primary, where his party’s most ideologically voters cast ballots. But like Akin, he has a tendency to make outrageous, ill-advised statements, and it’s harder to imagine him winning a statewide general election. Alternatively, Grayson could lose the primary but badly injure Murphy in the process. He’s never shown any compunctions about attacking opponents in his own party almost as harshly as he does Republicans—though Mark Pinsky makes a case that he may have moderated slightly.