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Politics / Issues

Senate Candidate Grayson Embraces 'Liberal Firebrand' Description

Many Floridians - and the rest of the nation - first got to know Congressman Alan Grayson with statement’s like this:

“Remember the Republican plan: don’t get sick, and if you do get sick die quickly,” he said in a 2009 House floor speech about health care that went viral on YouTube.

The Orlando Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate is often described as a “liberal firebrand” for his passionate and sometimes combative encounters in the media and on Capitol Hill. And his outspoken nature hasn’t been derailed by a series of accusations – including the most recent ones involving his ex-wife.

The most serious one was the subject of a Congressional ethics probe into whether Grayson used his name and position to gain investors for his private hedge fund: a congressional no-no. He defended himself on MSNBC back in May when asked about it.

“Is this not from your hedge fund because your face is on it, your name is on it. So those are not yours?” asked the reporter.

Grayson replied: “Yeah, so what?”

Grayson blames one of his Democratic primary rivals, fellow Congressman Patrick Murphy, for the ethics probe. He bristles when asked why Democratic leaders, including President Obama, chose not to endorse him. However, he also dismisses the importance of that backing.

“The support that matters when you’re running in a Democratic election is you have support of the voters, and I’ve got it,” he said.

Actually, Grayson trailed Murphy in polls between March and late June, said freelance journalist Mark Pinsky, who has been reporting on Grayson for the past six years.

“My sense is that he’s well known in Central Florida, I don’t think he’s that well known in the panhandle, I don’t think he’s that well known in South Florida,” he said.

Central Florida voters got to know Grayson when they first sent him to Congress in 2008. He lost the seat two years later, and returned in 2012. By then he had established himself as a tough talking liberal media darling.

That persona, Pinksy says, is for Grayson supporters outside of Florida, many who have donated more than $400,000 to his campaign.

“That is large numbers of people, in the hundreds of thousands across the country who see him as their representative, their congressman,” Pinsky said. “And that’s where a good deal of his money comes from. I think he speaks to his national base when he speaks on television.”

But on the campaign trail, Grayson tones it down at places like the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where the towering Grayson bends down to chat with a young boy. And as he meets parishioners, he never mentions he’s running for the Senate. Nor does he say anything during a stop at a low-income housing complex.

“It’s hot Mr. Congressman, we can’t even breathe in here,” longtime resident Mona Lisa Arnold says as she invites Grayson into her tiny apartment to tells stories of gunfire outside her window.

Grayson asks is she sees people getting arrested. “No, not really,” she says.

“Do they come when there’s a gun shot?” Grayson asks.

“Yeah, I guess if somebody call them,” she replies.

This toned-down persona in Jacksonville doesn’t reflect Grayson’s headline-grabbing personal life.

Back in May, he married a woman running for his Congressional seat. And last year, his 25-year marriage came to a messy end when it was annulled after Grayson learned that his ex-wife was married to another man when they wed.

Now, the first wife, Lolita Grayson, has come forward with allegations that he abused her.

Grayson’s lawyer insists that the claims are false, saying she’s trying to derail his senate campaign. Since the announcement, two of the nation’s largest progressive groups have pulled their support of Grayson. Several staff members also have left the campaign.

Freelance journalist Pinsky thinks if hurting Grayson’s chances in the primary was the purpose, Grayson’s ex-wife may have succeeded.

“Whether the charges have a basis in fact or not, the fact that they were reported to the police, the fact that there are four of them in two state, I think the damage is done and the damage is probably fatal,” he said.

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