Former President Bill Clinton strolled out of the doors of the Coleman Library on the Florida A&M University campus to the cheers and applause of about 1,000 people Sunday at a Win with Gwen get-out-the-vote rally.
Clinton, nearly an election-year figure in Tallahassee since his 1992 presidential campaign, rallied supporters of Gwen Graham’s challenge to Congressman Steve Southerland and urged them to increase voter turnout.
The former president explained that Congressional gridlock exists because a “different America” votes during presidential and mid-term elections. He said the result of having low-income, the young, minorities and the frail sit out midterm elections is intense partisanship and Congressional inaction.
Clinton asked the audience to trust him when he says the country is watching Florida’s 2-nd District race to see if Graham’s bi-partisan message can succeed in ending the polarization.
“You can make a positive vote for a person who has lived among you, has roots here is a gifted public servant and will make a real difference,” said Clinton. “In the next nine days everyone here is going to pass a hundred people . . . that you actually know and probably will not vote unless you stop them look them in the eye and ask them too.”
Both parties think they can win the Southerland-Graham battle. The 2-nd District extends through 14-counties; the divide between its financial and education centers in the cities and the farming and logging counties in the countryside is much wider than the one separating the national political parties.
Southerland won the 2012 campaign with 53 percent of the vote. He balanced Al Lawson’s Democratic base in Tallahassee with supermajorities in Bay and 10 rural counties.
Lawson emerged from the Capitol region of Leon and Gadsden counties with a 42,600 vote lead – out of 155,000 votes counted. Southerland countered it with a 39,800-margin in Bay and Jackson Counties and then walled in the Capitol region by winning more than 60 percent of the vote in each of the remaining counties.
Thee were 6,000 voters each In Calhoun and Gulf counties and Southerland’s victories margins were 2,200 and 2,900. He emerged from Taylor County with a 3,300 victory – 8,900 people voted. He repeated the pattern, effectively fencing in the Democratic voters of Leon and Gadsden.
The Graham strategy is to swell the voter pool in the cities, peel away at Southerland’s strength in the country and knock down the wall surrounding Tallahassee with an urban/rural coalition that erases Southerland’s victory total of 18,000 in 2012.
To that end, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, Sen. Bill Nelson, state Rep. Alan Williams and incoming Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum warmed up the audience for Clinton explaining it’s in a citizen’s economic interest to vote as well as a civic responsibility.
“(You) have an obligation to speak truth to power with your vote,” said the Rev. Julius McAllister of Bethel AME Church.
“We have a moral obligation to have our vote be our voice. We have had so many persons who died during the Civil Rights movement to have this right,” McAllister explained afterward. “Because we have the opportunity to make a difference then we should, vote.”
Williams provided a context for McAllister’s comment. He said he voted in memory of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two teens who died in Stand-Your-Ground confrontations. Williams, having gained the attention of the young men in the audience then turned to the economic policy issues of the 2014 campaign.
“I met a lot of student leaders who want a U.S. Congressman and Governor who will help relieve the burden of student loans. I spokes with dozens of working Floridians who want a U.S. Congressman and Governor who will fight for a higher minimum wage, said Williams. “The work we do between now and Nov. 4 will decide the future of North Florida.”
He urged his listeners to recruit voters at the supermarket, at church, while waiting at a red light.
Echoing his presidency when he would talk about building a “bridge to the future,” Clinton noted the economy is growing and American is back to the point of building a future. The question he asked is whether it will be a future of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities.
“Unless we provide more pre-school opportunities when my granddaughter (1-month old) starts kindergarten she will have heard 30-million more words than the child of a working mom who has to drop her kid off at daycare at 7:00 o’clock in the morning to be at work at 7:30, that’s not right, that’s not America” said Clinton. “We can all go forward together.”
While Clinton spoke five buses lined up at the edge of the FAMU Quad to take spectators to an early-voting site on the other end of campus.