The first time I saw Alan Grayson was in a hotel lobby in Denver during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He leaned his 6-foot-4 frame menacingly over an uneasy-looking U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, lighting into the DNC chairwoman for not taking his first campaign for Congress more seriously. The last time I spoke with him, on Wednesday, Congressman Grayson was shouting at me over the phone. "Are are you some kind of sh-----g robot?! You go around sh-----g on people?!" he shouted.
This was after I asked about why he had incorporated hedge funds in the Cayman Islands — the kind of offshore tax havens he has criticized. It left me wondering not just about Grayson's knowledge of robots, but also whether the Democratic elites have it all wrong.
Maybe Congressman Loose Cannon really is the best Democrat to run for the U.S. Senate. Lord knows Florida Democrats have already tried to field cautious centrists who often sound apologetic for being Democrats (Alex Sink), who care far less about core principles than being widely liked (Charlie Crist), who worship the mushy middle of the road (Jim Davis). They've lost each time.
And yet Democratic leaders are convinced that U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a bland, 32-year-old former Republican from Palm Beach County who rarely utters a surprising word, is their ticket for winning another Senate seat. Nothing against Murphy. He seems bright, reasonable and unlikely to shout obscenities at reporters.
But enough already.
Let's bring eccentricity back into Florida politics. Let's see more politicians who occasionally veer from poll-tested talking points, occasionally say something weird or obnoxious or interesting.
Let's finally test whether the liberal activists are right. Maybe what ails the Democratic Party in Florida is not a lack of statewide candidates with broad bipartisan appeal, but rather a lack of candidates who are real, unscripted human beings who can excite the Democratic base.
Grayson, who famously described the GOP health care plan as "die quickly" and referred to a Federal Reserve lobbyist as a "K Street whore," is not one for subtlety:
"I have trouble listening to what (Dick Cheney) says sometimes because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he's talking. ... When he was done speaking, did he just then turn into a bat and fly away?"
"I suspect that President Bush might have been passed out drunk the last three or four days, so I'm not sure he made any conscious decision at all."
"At this point, the tea party is no more popular than the klan."
The multimillionaire populist also has a nationwide fundraising network of liberal true believers. He won't back away from any fight. And he is among the most forceful advocates for progressive Democratic causes, defending the Affordable Care Act and attacking free trade agreements.
"Rep. Grayson's mind is focused on middle-class America and trying to make sure that as we morph into a global economy that middle-class America is not taking a beating," said Osceola County Commissioner Mike Harford, a 30-year veteran of Florida politics who thinks the talk of Grayson being unelectable statewide is nonsense.
"Can he be a little tough? Sure he can. But I think maybe the time has passed for our side to soft pedal and acquiesce when it comes to standing up for the middle class. The other side isn't doing that and we're getting pummelled."
What's more, for all of his partisan divisiveness, Grayson has managed to appeal not just to liberal Democrats but libertarian-leaning Republicans. That's how, in a do-nothing Congress, he has managed to pass dozens of amendments — from restricting surveillance by drones to barring federal contracts for corporations convicted of fraud — and get dubbed by Slate.com in 2013 as "the most effective member of the House."
Here I should acknowledge a couple things:
First, there is zero doubt Grayson would be a lot more fun to cover than Murphy.
Second, I acknowledge there is a decent chance that most every Democratic Party member in Washington and Tallahassee is absolutely correct in assuming a Grayson Senate campaign would be a train wreck.
It's not so much his ideology, as his erratic temperament.
In 2010, Grayson's constituents in a competitive Orlando-area swing district ousted him from office and overwhelmingly replaced him with Republican Dan Webster. Yes, that was a GOP wave election, but where Grayson lost by 18 percentage points (after airing a false attack ad calling Webster "Taliban Dan"), Sink lost that same district by less than 1 percentage point. (In 2012, Grayson ran successfully in a newly drawn and much more Democratic district.)
That's as good an indicator as we're likely to find at this point about Grayson's ability to win Florida, even against a hard-right, tea party conservative like Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.
But wouldn't it be fun to find out for sure?
Contact Adam C. Smith at email@example.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.