Firebrand Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) officially joined the 2016 Florida Senate race on Thursday. The announcement was as much of a declaration of war on his own party as it was a campaign launch.
The Senate seat became open when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the circus of candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. Florida law will not allow Rubio to remain on the ballot for both races, but he could have delayed making the decision until closer to the May 2016 filing date. Rubio vowed back in April that he would step aside, allowing the Republicans time to find a strong contender.
As Breitbart News previously reported, Florida is a notoriously difficult state in which to run a statewide campaign:
The Sunshine State is a tougher place to run statewide than many other states, with ten media markets that often have very little overlap and a significantly more diverse electorate than nearly everywhere else in the country. To be competitive, a candidate must raise a lot of money quickly to have the resources to establish sufficient name recognition and counter any attacks from opponents. And even with adequate fundraising, not all candidates prove capable of assembling the campaign infrastructure needed to get-out-the-vote across the state.
Florida’s primary election date is set for August 30, 2016, so each party’s nominee for Senate will have just over two months to raise money and execute a campaign plan for the general election, which will fall on November 8.
Grayson has been battling the Democratic establishment for months, as many leaders within both the state and national party organizations threw their support behind Grayson’s fellow Congressman, Patrick Murphy (D-FL), who filed to run months ago.
Murphy has been endorsed by multiple other members of Florida’s Democratic Congressional delegation (Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, and Frederica Wilson), and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (also a former Republican), according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has also openly backed Murphy, and top Democratic donors have held fundraisers for Murphy in Florida, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
The main reason for the lack of support from his own party is Grayson’s penchant for controversy, which makes many wary about his ability to win a statewide race in a swing state. Party leaders worry that Grayson’s combative nature may not only cause him to lose his race, but also jeopardize down-ballot Democrats in Congressional and local races — not to mention making it tougher for Democrats to win Florida’s critical 29 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential race.
Grayson has made headlines for aggressive comments like calling a female lobbyist a “K Street whore,” saying that the Republican health care plan was for people to “die quickly,” and attacking his former Republican opponent, Daniel Webster (R-FL), as a member of the “Taliban” for his social conservative views.
Grayson’s increasing nasty divorce battle with his estranged wife, Lolita, have made Florida’s political press corps sound like gossip columnists, with allegations of bigamy, infidelity, and domestic abuse, not to mention when Grayson publicly called her a “gold digger” after a recent hearing. Earlier this month, Grayson launched a bizarre, profanity-laden tirade at a reporter, saying that his story was s “a whole ‘nother level of bullsh**” and asking him if he was “some kind of sh**ing robot” who went around “sh***ing on people.”
Murphy, on the other hand, ran as a moderate to win his Congressional seat, which is in a Republican-leaning swing district, and in fact was a registered Republican until just a few months before running for Congress in 2011, leading party leaders to believe he may have crossover appeal. Since being elected, Murphy has crossed party lines to vote with the Republicans multiple times, as Breitbart News reported, including being one of 19 House Democrats to vote for the Keystone XL pipeline, supporting a Republican measure to require the President to offer a budget that was balanced within ten years, and voting for a farm bill extension that would have added new work requirements for food stamp recipients.
These votes by Murphy have been anathema to progressive Democrats. Back in April, the “Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida” conducted a media conference call detailing their objections to Murphy and support of Grayson as a “bold champion” who would bring the party’s progressive base out to the polls, as Breitbart News reported.
The contest is expected to draw national attention, both for the wide differences between the candidates and the expected nastiness of the race. As Politico noted in an article titled “Democrats’ primary nightmare comes true,” “The contrasts between the two are stark: Grayson is a progressive, hip-shooting firebrand beloved by hardcore liberals; Murphy is a cautious, scripted candidate favored by the Democratic establishment in Washington and Tallahassee. The two Florida congressmen show little admiration for each other, which could presage a brutal and big-spending primary.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) made very clear its preference, not just endorsing Murphy but taking the unusual step of publicly discouraging Grayson from entering the race. The DSCC even “welcomed” Grayson to the race by putting out a statement Thursday morning that praised Murphy and did not mention Grayson, but took some subtle jabs at him nonetheless.
“Patrick Murphy…has proven himself to be a hard-working and responsible representative for his constituents,” says the DSCC statement. “He is running a strong campaign that’s focused on Florida, and we are confident that he will make a terrific Senator for the Sunshine State which is why we endorsed him.”
— Emily Cahn (@CahnEmily) July 9, 2015
Tallahassee-based Republican strategist Rick Wilson found it quite unusual that the Democratic Party establishment was making such efforts against one of its own incumbents. “I think that it is very telling that most of the opposition research being dropped on Alan Grayson is coming from the national Democrats and the Florida Democratic Party,” Wilson told Breitbart News. “They are desperately trying to avoid talking about or acknowledging that Alan Grayson has entered this race.”
Wilson also noted the risk of backlash for the Democrats from their base, with the party establishment so blatantly supporting Murphy, who he described as “Harry Reid’s hand-picked meat puppet,” over a “super popular true progressive” like Grayson.
Both Murphy and Grayson are not only prolific fundraisers, but also have significant personal wealth as well. Murphy’s father owns a successful construction company and Grayson’s work as a trial attorney has made him one of the richest members of Congress, although his ongoing divorce threatens to tie up those funds.
Murphy reported that he had raised $1.4 million in the second quarter of 2015, certainly a respectable sum, but not an overwhelming number considering how many Democratic big-wigs were backing him. Murphy’s campaign war chest is expected to be quickly surpassed by Grayson’s, who has a history of strong grassroots fundraising, buoyed by his ability to attract national media attention.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.