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An Anti-War Challenge to Obama in 2012: The Case for Alan Grayson

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Current Beltway consensus holds that the 2012 race, like 2010, will be a referendum on the economy. But what if, instead, the war in Afghanistan, which Barack Obama has embraced, deteriorates dramatically, requiring a delay in the scheduled troop withdrawal or, worse, forces another escalation? Might Democratic anti-war sentiment -- until now a sleeper issue -- turn rebellious?

Already, national polls show a plurality (Pew) or a majority (Quinnipiac) opposed to remaining in Afghanistan, with the margins of opposition rising. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted Dec. 9-12 found that 60 percent of Americans believe that, "considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States," the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting.

The practical goal of a liberal Democratic primary challenge would be less to wrest the nomination from Obama than as a vehicle for policy transformation. That is, to rally the liberal base in forcing the president to speed departure of U.S. military forces and, in the process, pressure him back to the left on economic issues.

With early caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary, the primary schedule would favor such an effort, even one that is largely symbolic. Both are states where anti-war sentiment tends to run high, and where there are relatively few African-American Democrats, who make up the core of Obama's support.

A number of well-known Democratic names have been suggested, but all so far have demurred. So who would be crazy enough -- or just foolhardy enough -- to make a kamikaze run against Obama?

Consider outgoing Central Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, the master of the outrageous sound bite, and perhaps the most reviled member of the House. He's already appeared on at least one list of possible challengers (admittedly toward the bottom of it). On Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show, "The Last Word," Grayson was coy, declining to say whether he would be willing to make a run, although he said some challenge to the president from the left would make him happy. Later he said a race would be a "distraction."

Grayson, 52, has strong anti-war credentials. He was an early, consistent and unequivocal opponent of both "war on terror" conflicts, beginning with Iraq. In 2006, the first year he ran for Congress, his vintage Cadillac sported a bumper sticker reading: "Bush Lied, People Died." As a congressman, he characterized both wars as "occupations," and he likes to say that the best way to support American troops is to bring them home -- now.

In addition, Grayson earned the affection of the Democratic base by his outspoken support on the House floor for a public option on health care; his attacks on Fox News and talk radio pundits; and, most recently, for his equally strident opposition to tax cuts for the wealthy.

Challenging a sitting Democratic president over an unpopular conflict has happened before. In 1968, the insurgent, anti-Vietnam War primary challenges by little-known Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy and, later, Sen. Robert Kennedy, drove incumbent President Lyndon Johnson from the White House, resulting in the election of Richard Nixon.

Grayson has the name recognition, a trial lawyer's instinct for the jugular and, most critically, the considerable ego required for such a quixotic run. Although a hero to Netroots Nation and the sweetheart of MSNBC, he has no political future in Florida. The departing freshman congressman was trounced in his Orlando swing district by 17 percentage points, 56-39, by Republican Daniel Webster, a conservative Christian and longtime state legislator. Thus Grayson has little to lose in making the national race, and little to do after Congress adjourns beside returning to his legal practice.
With a significant personal fortune from a '90s telecom start-up, and a lucrative Washington, D.C., law firm (successfully suing alleged Iraq war profiteers like KBR and Custer Battles), Grayson would also have the money to launch a limited national campaign. In the past, he has drawn on both sources of financial support, largely underwriting his unsuccessful 2006 and successful 2008 congressional campaigns.

However, by 2010, his prominence with the Democratic base was such that he was able to raise more than $5 million before writing any personal checks or taking out loans. He's reportedly mulling plans for a book about the future of the Democratic Party that would likely appear in the midst of the run-up to the 2012 primary season, making a run doubly attractive. Until then, he could maintain his visibility by serving as a fill-in host for MSNBC's "The Ed Show," where he has been a frequent -- almost regular -- guest.

When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dissed Democrats' liberal base months ago, Grayson called for his ouster. Yet for a politician not heretofore known for circumspection, Grayson had been extremely careful about criticizing Obama directly. He always argued for the most liberal positions, but in the end supported the Democrats' final compromise legislation. That is, until the tax cut vote, when he joined other dissident Democrats in writing a public letter to the president and opposing the measure.

There are a number of potential downsides to a Grayson race. His quicksilver personality -- some call it erratic -- can shift in a nanosecond from witty and charming to harshly unpleasant. Also, the challenge would pit a left-wing Jew against a centrist African-American, adding yet another incendiary element to what is an increasingly volatile national relationship. Grayson has a strong pro-Israel record, and has had the local support in his congressional races of groups like AIPAC, while the Jewish community has begun to have its doubts about the Obama administration.

And, in a larger sense, a challenge -- even a marginal one -- with respectable showings in the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire and, later, the New York and California primaries raises the specter of the 1980 Democratic primary campaign of liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, which crippled Jimmy Carter's re-election bid and led to the victory of Ronald Reagan. In 2000, Ralph Nader's shoestring, independent run cost Al Gore electoral votes in Florida, and the election. The Democratic Party would never forgive Grayson if his challenge ultimately produced a President Romney, or Huckabee, or Gingrich -- or Palin.

Ultimately, the political calculus is problematic. A credible threat by any anti-war candidate might be enough to ensure the scheduled (or expedited) U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Conversely, by isolating more extreme elements of the Democratic base in a doomed effort, the challenge could simply solidify Obama's support among moderate Democrats and the crucial independents needed to ensure his re-election in 2012.

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232 Comments

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MarNatalie

I love Alan Grayson, but if you want to see a president unable to govern, this would be the guy. He was great as a maverick Congressman, but as president? Impossible. I don't even think he would want the job, given the necessity for compromise involved in its description.

January 05 2011 at 3:55 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

I would love to see some of Grayson's anti-Obama commercials.

January 05 2011 at 10:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
amongthefishes

The day Alan Grayson becomes president is the day we see unicorns grazing on The White House lawn.

Sorry, but there is no way Grayson could ever get the number of votes necessary to win, or be taken seriously enough to do so. The second he chose to run the commercial "Taliban Dan" against his opponent in Florida, which contained audio edits and lies, he proved it.

I'm a Democrat and I would never support him for president.

January 04 2011 at 9:19 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
mal998

Whatever Alan Grayson decides to do he will have my complete support. He's a guy with a backbone who isn't afraid to speak up and tell it like it is. I salute him. He's my kind of Democrat!

January 04 2011 at 5:18 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
sysaphus71

The reason Greyson WAS THROWN OUT is because he is one of the new Democrats that was swept into Congress in 2008. Now that he and the rest of these democrats have shown their true colors ,it is back in the street...2012 will finish the job....So much for James Carville's predictions of Democrats for a generation. yeah if a generation is 2 years.

January 03 2011 at 9:49 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
ttdq

Grayson is such a typical Democrat that he should run and be like a breath of fresh air on the scene. His representaion of the left would be a great example of what all Democrats could bring to the political life of America. He would truly mount a credible threat based on his past performance.

January 02 2011 at 4:49 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jimstngry

After watching and listening to all the corporate right, funded talk radio and tv commentary news shows,(and there are many) it is like a breathe of fresh air to hear congressman Allen Grayson stand up to all the corporate right winged rethoric! I cannot forget how fox views said that American auto workers were making $130. an hour and watchers believed them! And Obama was a muslim without an American citizenship, and there watchers believed them!ETC: Thanks to grayson and Obama for turning this country around from the demise it was heading for in 2008! Wake up America!

January 01 2011 at 9:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
captaincvfd

Some one like this Running and Evevn Palin would Win

December 31 2010 at 6:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
furio

As an American I support every effort by the Demokrat Partie to expose itself as anti American, pro IslamicFascist, Marxist, NeoNAZI, Fascist or Lunatic!
The Demokrat is not of us!
Every Demokrat of the Partie marches in Totalitarian Lockstep to the Orders of Barack Hussein Obama and his Moneychanger George Soros.
The Elites, seeking Totalitarian Control over the Americans will face a historic reckoning which will grow and grow in its awesome power on January 5,2011.
As of now there are 30 American States that have essentially ended the existence of the Demokrat Partie.
The South, representing the future with 40% of the population and a thousand mile landmass is now without Demokrats from the Potomac/Ohio Valley to the Rio Grande.
The Demokrat Partie represented by the Trotskiyte New York Liberal Allan Grayson is typical of the "ghetto belt", Pacific Coast to 20 miles inland and Marxist Redoubts of Chicago, St Louis and other lunatic fringe areas now isolated and surrounded awaiting the final assault from the Continentals Army.
This is now classic war, correlation of forces and historic victory.

December 31 2010 at 6:40 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Roman

I'm not impressed by this person Mr.Grayson. He's got as much of a credible chance as those candidates (Republicans or Democrats) who run mainly for publicity or for reasons of ego. I'm a Democrat, but neither on the left or right.... more of a centrist. He may have a base of support in the leftist segments of the Dem. Party, but it will be all for naught. The country is shifting away from the left and more to the right. Honestly, while Pres. Obama has his good qualities, I would have much preferred President H. R. Clinton. Some people have scoffed at the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket in 2012. But, based on this year's congressional elections and the ones coming up in 2012, it may be necessary to shake things up. Clinton is admired by a significant electorate that has lost faith in Obama. That cannot be ignored.

December 30 2010 at 2:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Roman's comment
my4salebox

I'm kinda glad she didn't win, though. Because no matter WHO held the reigns for the very specific years of 2009 and 2010 was going to be in a world of hurt cleaning up after 2000 to 2008. I'm sorry it had to be Obama, but someone had to do it, and now Clinton is free to move forward. Obama took one for the team. I have respect, though he's made his mistakes, no doubt.

December 30 2010 at 2:11 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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