Rep. Alan Grayson may be Florida's bluntest politician. He's never short of words and always says what he means — unless you ask him whom he supports in the Democratic presidential primary. Grayson, who is running for U.S. Senate, accepted a spot on the Hillary Clinton campaign's Florida Leadership Council, but he doesn't want you to think that actually means he supports Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders. He likes Sanders too and isn't shy about throwing around the Vermont Democratic socialist's name in fundraising emails.
Grayson is stuck in a hard spot. Florida's Democratic voters overwhelmingly prefer Clinton, but if Grayson hopes to beat his moderate Democrat primary
Grayson was one of 152 names that signed up to be part of the Clinton Florida Leadership Council back in November. It's a who's who of Florida's Democratic establishment. Eight out of the ten Democrats from Florida serving in the U.S. House (including Grayson and Murphy) are on the list (the only who aren't are Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who as head of the DNC remains neutral, and moderate Gwen Graham).
It's not surprising, really.
Florida Democrats love Hillary Clinton. She beat Obama in the Sunshine State by 17 points in 2008 and leads Sanders in state polls by about 39 points. Florida Democrats, the ones who'll vote for Grayson in the August Senate primary, generally like Clinton.
However, Grayson is also the darling of the national netroots and progressive movements, the same forces that are now backing Sanders' insurgent campaign against Clinton. Grayson also gets a lot of his campaign money from the same kind of progressive-minded, small-time donors who are funding Sanders. To pull off a win in his August Senate primary, Grayson will also need the types of voters who will show up for Sanders in the March presidential primary to vote then too.
So though Grayson sits on Clinton's leadership council, he doesn't want anyone to think he's endorsed Clinton.
Grayson guested on progressive talk radio show The Thom Hartmann Program in December, and when a caller asked him about his Clinton connection, he was quick to say he didn't officially endorse her.
"I'm really not understanding, if Representative Grayson is a true progressive, why he endorsed Hillary Clinton," the caller said, "who is funded by every big bank, every corporation in the United States."
“I didn’t,” Grayson said. "What happened for those of you who have been following me and been listening to Thom’s show and watching me on MSNBC, I’ve had good things to say about Secretary Clinton, very good things to say about Bernie Sanders, and good things to say about Joe Biden when it looked like he might be running. I said amongst other things that Bernie Sanders is a national treasure.
"What I did was that President ... Secretary Clinton's staff was kind enough to extend an invitation to me to join what she calls her Florida Leadership Council, which is meant to help her planning in November," Grayson continued.
Grayson, however, isn't shy about comparing himself to Sanders in fundraising emails.
"Right now, there are only two of us in the Capitol who raised most of our campaign funds from small donors (less than $200 per person, per cycle) — one in the House and one in the Senate," his campaign wrote in a fundraiser email last week. "Me and Senator Bernie Sanders. End of list. And I fully intend to raise my campaign funds the same way, for my own Senate election."
In another email in December, he wrote, "I know that there are still people like me today out there, plodding through the snow in the middle of the night, doing a job that doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. They can’t survive on $7.25. They inspired me to co-sponsor a bill with Senator Sanders to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour. I’m proud to join the fight for $15."
Hillary Clinton's name has been absent from Grayson's fundraising pitches over the past few months.
Grayson also appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher this past Friday, when he also tied himself to Sanders' progressive movement.
Grayson, of course, isn't a full-on socialist like Sanders, but the two share many similar views on practical matters (though maybe not so much on offshore hedge funds). If Sanders is to build a "movement," electing a senator who holds Grayson's views from Florida certainly seems like it would part of that movement's goals.
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Indeed, the state's Democratic establishment has rallied around his primary opponent, Representative Murphy. Many think Grayson is too liberal to win a statewide election despite the fact that establishment-backed moderate Democrats like Murphy continue to lose statewide election after statewide election.
Grayson, however, remains the prohibitive frontrunner at this point. He's besting Murphy in primary polls and beats all Republican contenders in head-to-head matchups.
The problem is that many Florida voters remain uninformed and undecided about the race to succeed Marco Rubio as Florida's junior senator. Many won't make up their minds until long after the parties pick their presidential nominees anyway.
So expect Grayson to continue to walk a line between Clinton and Sanders. His campaign won't begin taking shape until after that is decided anyway. There's no use in ticking off either's supporters in the meantime, especially if you're a politician in a uniquely weird spot like Grayson.