Andrew Grant had just finished an afternoon of door-knocking in his uphill bid for Congress when he decided to drop by the Muslim community center in Folsom.
He’d visited the mosque before, and was welcomed as a familiar face, posing afterward in the 90-degree August heat with two community leaders. Later, he posted the photograph on his campaign’s Facebook page.
“I go everywhere,” Grant said this week over coffee in Sacramento. “I say yes to every invitation.”
What followed was a stream of invective, flowing like a stopped-up toilet, attacking Muslims, the Islamic faith and Grant for his smiling portrait alongside two of its adherents.
“Not the muzzies!!!!!
“anyone who befriends muslims will never get my vote.”
“Got enough problems without having a Muslim in some kind of office..you'd have to be blind deaf and DUMB to vote one in.”
Eventually, responses from defenders of the Muslim community and Grant came to outnumber the haters, some even saying they planned to vote for incumbent Democrat Ami Bera but nevertheless respected his Republican opponent for reaching out. Many expressed sadness and anger at such an outpouring of unbridled bigotry.
“I really respect you doing this and wanting to represent all constituents,” one woman wrote.
Clean-cut and square-jawed, Grant is a 46-year-old former Marine and first-time political candidate who has essentially been cut loose by leaders of his Republican Party.
The 7th Congressional District, which takes in the suburbs east of Sacramento, has seen a succession of vigorously fought House races. In 2016, the two major parties and their allies spent nearly $14.5 million, making the contest between Bera and Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones the most expensive congressional race in California.
But this year is different. With so many seats to defend, Republicans have all but written off the 7th District, leaving Grant to scrape by as best he can.
That means showing up just about anywhere he finds an audience, posting a lot of video selfies — “precinct walking in Elk Grove, did a lot of door-to-door” — and throwing up a load of Facebook pictures: at In-N-Out, the Capital Airshow and, innocently enough, the mosque and community center in Folsom.
His experience sadly illustrates the vitriol and flame-throwing that so often pass for political discussion today. Some might even suggest that — fairly or not — Grant was merely reaping what President Trump, the nation’s antagonist in chief, has sown.
Except Grant is no Trump cheerleader. While he voted for the president, in good part because of his anti-Washington message, he’s been offended by many of the things Trump has done and said, and won’t hesitate saying so.
He defended, for instance, Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest during the national anthem, which Trump has used to agitate his political base.
“Of course he has the right to do that,” Grant said of the out-of-work former NFL star. “What I say is, let’s figure out a way where he wants to stand up and feel great about America. Let’s focus on saying, ‘Hey, Colin, whatcha doing? What’s important about what you’re doing?’”
Rather than stir up fear over America’s changing complexion, Grant went on, Republicans “need to understand that the future of America looks a lot different from the past” and reach beyond the party’s base of older, conservative white voters.
That’s part of what he’s doing, Grant said, in showing up at a mosque in Folsom and events like one hosted by the local gay Chamber of Commerce.
“I feel like being a Californian, I can accept where people want to be embraced for how different they are, and how we can all be in that melting pot,” he said.
A Bay Area native, Grant joined the Marines after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1995 and served in multiple combat zones, including Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. After leaving the military in 2004, he worked at the State Department on efforts to keep nuclear weapons from the hands of terrorists.
He moved on to emergency management, helping lead the federal government’s response to the BP oil spill, floods, hurricanes and other crises, before taking a job overseeing risk assessment — food safety and the like — for Raley’s, the West Sacramento-based supermarket chain.
He came to the GOP, Grant said, through patriarchal lineage — his father was a Republican — and a belief in small government. His mother was more leftward-leaning, sharing her Joan Baez records and pushing books on Grant — Kerouac’s “On the Road” was a favorite — to expose him to the counterculture.
He still loves Berkeley and its radical bent, Grant said with a grin, and regularly stops by Moe’s Books, a local institution since the hippie era. He once showed up in full Marine uniform, resulting, Grant said, in “some of the most interesting conversations” he’d ever had.
But it’s often hard to get voters to hear him out, for the simple reason that Grant has the Republican “R” beside his name.
“I’ve been kicked off people’s porches. I’ve been yelled at. I’ve been dismissed I can’t tell you how many times,” Grant said. “I’ve been sworn at it. You name it, I’ve been called it.”
He never had the chance, he said, to explain: “I served my country as a Marine. They never understood that I went to the Naval Academy. They never understood that when I disagree with President Trump or the Republican Party, I make that clear. They didn’t get into that conversation.”
It’s impossible, of course, to know how many of those slamming doors in Grant’s face or refusing to listen are critical of others who make blithe assumptions about Muslims or Latinos or other groups of people they don’t like.