Advocacy group targets Steve Southerland over food stamp stance

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Republican Rep. Steve Southerland has become “Campaign Target #1” of the Food Policy Action, which announced a major push in the last weeks of the 2014 midterms to unseat the two-term Florida representative.

Ned Resnikoff of MSNBC reports the nonprofit hunger and agriculture group will sink $100,000 into advertising, phone banks and organizing to defeat Southerland, who represents Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.

Southerland may not be as well-known as Ted Cruz or Joni Ernst, but for those familiar with the North Florida race are not surprised by the group’s ire.

During his two terms in the House, Southerland led the Republican charge to cut the federal food stamp program by billions of dollars. He backed an amendment allowing states to impose work requirements on food stamp recipients, as well as a bill cutting $39 billion in food stamp aid over the next decade.

“He’s just been terrible on food,” said MSNBC contributor and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who serves on the Food Policy Action board of directors.

Food Policy Action scores every single member of the House and Senate based on positions on food policy. Southerland received only 11 percent – near the bottom.

There were a few members of Congress ranking lower, such as Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also faces a tight reelection race. McConnell was at the very bottom with a 0 percent score.

Despite not being at the bottom, Food Policy Action chose Southerland for the 2014 cycle for his close association with food stamp cuts. In addition, his close race with Democratic challenger Gwen Graham gives Food Policy Action the hope that its investment can make a difference.

The daughter of former U.S. senator and Florida governor Bob Graham, Gwen’s entrance into the race reshaped what should have been an easy re-election bid for Southerland, so much so that RealClearPolitics labeled the race “tossup.”

Although Southerland now has a bigger challenge than expected, a clear front-runner has not yet emerged. If Graham does win, Resnikoff notes that Food Policy Action could have a legitimate claim to at least some of the credit.

Food Policy Action is banking that replacing Southerland would send a message to other candidates and elected officials saying voters support using federal money to combat hunger. And if one House member loses because of his position on food stamps, there is that possibility that 2016 presidential candidates will take note.

“In the last election cycle we had 20 Republican primary debates, we had three presidential debates, and food never come up once with the exception of when Newt Gingrich called Obama ‘the food stamp president,’” Colicchio told MSNBC. “So we would actually like to see it included in the presidential debates. We would like to see candidates getting questions about food insecurity and how they would like to fix the problem.”

About one in every seven households has insufficient food for a healthy diet, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.