Democrat Gwen Graham, in the race against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, is using her most valuable ally — her father, former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham – in a series of high-profile fundraisers in the Tallahassee area.
“As a candidate, I am amazed by how she has developed such effective skills, which are not cosmetic,” he said during an event the northeast Tallahassee home of a prominent physician. “They are reflective of who she really is.”
The popular 77-year-old Democrat spoke of his daughter’s “brilliant political idea, one that surprisingly others have not adopted. … What do you call it, sweetheart?”
After his daughter whispered briefly in his ear, Graham continued, “Oh, yes. She calls it ‘work days.’ “
Anyone familiar with the senior Graham knows of the series of elections where he would take on jobs of ordinary Floridians, working eight-hour shifts busing tables, collecting garbage and driving trucks.
Now that she is a first-time candidate, Gwen Graham’s “Work Days” come straight out of her father’s winning playbook, says Margie Menzel in the News Service of Florida. For example, Graham spent Jan. 29 at a local construction project.
Florida’s Second Congressional District is one of the most competitive races in the 2014 midterm cycle, with as diverse a demographic as one can find — including strongly Democratic Tallahassee (Graham’s home base) and the strip of small rural counties, as well as Bay County, Southerland’s conservative stronghold.
Voters elected Southerland in the Tea Party wave of 2010, on a platform of conservative values such as repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Southerland and supporters say Graham is just too radical for the region, Menzel writes.
The Graham name may hold a lot of weight in the district, but it is still a “wildcard” yet to prove if it will actually translate into votes.
“She’s got a history of not having been in the district very long and supporting folks like John Kerry in the past, which is not going to connect with the demographics in the electorate there,” said Lenny Curry, chair of the Republican Party of Florida Lenny Curry in an interview with the News Service of Florida.
Gwen Graham is “going to have to stand on her own,” Curry added.
But Bob Graham’s name is still cherished in the Second Congressional District, even after a decade out of office, according to Susan MacManus, political scientist at the University of South Florida.
“It would be more likely that voters in North Florida would recall his days as governor than in other parts of the state where so many people have moved in since he was governor,” MacManus told Menzel. “Bob Graham has always had a knack for connecting with everyday people, and it’s going to be important to connect with everyday people who often don’t choose to vote in a midterm election.”
Republicans are painting Gwen Graham as a Democratic partisan out of step with the values of the district, using the standard GOP strategy of tying her to the unpopularity of Obamacare and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
“While Steve has never hesitated to take on either party in Washington when it’s in North Florida’s best interests, Gwen Graham has made clear she’s going to fall right in line with the Obama-Pelosi agenda,” Southerland campaign spokesperson Matt McCullough said in an email.
“We’re happy to let the voters decide if they want to back Gwen Graham, who wants to keep Obamacare in place and even refuses to reveal if she’d vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker, or Steve Southerland, who’s fighting for patient-centered health care reforms that reduce costs and increase access to quality care,” McCullough added.
Democrats say Southerland’s approach is only misdirection.
“It’s clear Congressman Southerland would rather talk about Nancy Pelosi than killing the farm bill or shutting down the government,” said Julia Gill Woodward, Graham’s campaign manager. “Gwen is committed to representing the people of North Florida with an independent voice.”
“If Congressman Southerland wants to run against Nancy Pelsoi, he should move to California,” Woodward added.
Obamacare is at the heart of the battle, which Bob Graham accepted that it “has not been a very good example of democracy at work.”
Both Grahams — father and daughter — believe Obamacare makes it crucial to choose problem-solving candidates, people who will listen to voters.
“There are some good parts of the Affordable Care Act,” Gwen Graham said, talking about a woman who praised Obamacare for giving her granddaughter access to a vital heart surgery. “But we also need to recognize that there are parts that need to be fixed.”
“So let’s have a healthy discussion about this,” Graham added. “Let’s stop fighting over it, and let’s figure out how to fix it. That’s what people who elect you expect you to do, and that’s what my commitment is.”
MacManus believes the issue of either fixing or repealing Obamacare is “the biggest unknown this election year, and both parties are claiming that their position is the winning position.”