Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson announced Tuesday morning that he’ll mount a primary challenge against his successor, Rep. Darren Michael Soto, setting up a major primary fight that Florida and Washington Democrats had hoped to avoid.
Grayson, who had flirted with running for another congressional seat, indicated to WFTV in Orlando that he doesn’t care what party elites think of his decision to run for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 9th congressional district in Orlando.
“I don’t need anyone’s permission to run for office. What I’ve done is ask the people,” Grayson told the station. “I can run anywhere in the state; I could run from Key West to Pensacola.”
The primary will be a rematch of last names between Soto and Grayson. Soto beat Grayson’s wife, Deena Grayson, and Grayson’s former adviser, Susannah Randolph, in the 2016 Democratic primary for the seat, which is heavily Democratic. Soto is the first member of Florida’s congressional delegation of Puerto Rican descent, and the seat has a sizable Puerto Rican voting population that’s expected to become more active this year as Hurricane Maria survivors continue to flock to Central Florida.
Alan Grayson has high name ID in the district and more money than Soto. Independently wealthy and an effective online fundraiser, Grayson reported $700,000 cash on hand in his open congressional campaign account as of March 31. For the same time period, Soto had $365,000 in the bank.
Alan Grayson left the congressional district to run for U.S. Senate in 2016, but was clobbered in the Democratic primary by Rep. Patrick Murphy amid questions about Grayson’s finances and allegations from his ex-wife that he beat her. Grayson denied that he beat his ex-wife or that he committed any financial improprieties, but acknowledged to WFTV Tuesday that he regretted leaving what was then a safe House seat for him.
“I wish I hadn’t run for Senate,” said Grayson. “If I hadn’t run for Senate, I’d be in Congress right now fighting Donald Trump tooth and nail right now. I think Donald Trump should be impeached.”
The 2016 campaign took a toll on Grayson, even in his own congressional district. He barely won the area in the Senate race, taking just 39.1 percent of the vote to Murphy’s 36.2 percent within the district’s boundaries, according to an analysis by MCI Maps’ Matthew Isbell for POLITICO. The third-place finisher in the five-way Senate race, Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente, won 12.6 percent of the vote in the district despite having little money or name ID — a sign of potentially solid support for Latino candidates in the district.
Democratic Party officials from Washington and Florida, who funded Murphy against Grayson, have privately worried that Grayson’s decision to run again could complicate their ability to harness the power of the “Me Too” movement against sexual harassment. They’re also not sure if Soto can beat the firebrand Grayson without more outside financial help.
“Alan is a nightmare,” one Democrat involved in Florida races told POLITICO recently as speculation mounted that he might challenge Soto. “He’s what we don’t want.”