Republican Congressman Steve Southerland and his challenger, former labor negotiator Gwen Graham, began the final day of the campaign thanking their Tallahassee volunteers and urging them to stay focus on getting voters to the polls Tuesday.
“It’s going down to the wire,” Southerland said while greeting nearly forty supporters at his headquarters.
Southerland has not been able to establish any distance in between himself and Graham in the polls. The candidates agree the race is tight but there are differences in their approach to governing and their volunteers and how they will gather votes for election day.
The people who crowded into Southerland’s Tallahassee office, except for a couple of staffers, were all older than 40, held coffee and bagels while Southerland spoke and will staff phone banks to call Republican voters. The nearly 30 supporters who gathered outside of Graham’s office were all in their 20’s, held clipboards with names and addresses of people’s doors to knock on and will urge potential Democratic voters to cast a ballot for Graham.
“You guys have been awesome, I can’t thank you enough. Many of you for five years have stood with us and fought the fight so that I could get elected and represent you,” Southerland told supporters Monday morning.
“You believe in the same things that I believe in, that the future of America is found in the greatness of its people, not in the greatness of its government,” said Southerland. “That is what this election has come down to; it’s a simple choice. And I said it this morning on the radio. This election comes down to that choice; do we believe our future will be in people, in American people, or will it be in our government.”
Graham said Southerland is offering voters a false choice.
“I’m a very conservative person and I believe in very limited government and I don’t think it’s a choice of pitting people against government. We should all be supportive of having a functional effective government,” said Graham. “We’ve got to elect people who are not making it an adversarial competition after the election. Washington is not working and we have to get past this extreme partisanship where the opposition is demonized and people don’t even talk to members of the other party.”
Both parties believe they can win the race. The 14-county district stretches from the beaches of Panama City to the halls of government in Tallahassee and and through logging and farming communities to Perry. It is one of a handful of Congressional races in doubt. Ballotpedia has campaign finance and polling data here.
In the final hours of the contest both Southerland and Graham are trying to motivate their base and to reach voters like Tallahassee print shop worker Adam Lupiani. He’s undecided on whether he’s going to vote in the race.
The 28-year old takes classes part-time at Tallahassee Community College and couples with a Florida State University graduate student from California. Both he and she leans towards libertarian policies not because of a don’t tread on me philosophy but because of a live and let live approach to life.
Lupiani says he wrote a letter to Graham after the candidates’ first debate to congratulate her on running on a “moderate Republican platform.” He said he sees no significant policy differences between Southerland and Graham.
“The possibility of electing the first woman from this district is not insignificant,” said Lupiani. “The question for me is do I bubble in Gwen Graham’s name or do I not bubble in that field?”
The answer to Lupiani’s question could very well decide the election and whether the Democratic Party has a future in the 2-nd District.
To win Graham must erase Southerland’s 18,000-vote winning margin from 2012. Twice he won election with 53 percent of the vote.
To support Graham, Democrats brought in former President Bill Clinton, Congressman John Lewis and Jimmy Buffett. They registered more than 11,000 voters in the District, assembled the largest field operation of any Congressional campaign in the country and matched GOP spending in the race dollar for dollar. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Graham deployed waves of groups of 12 or more college-aged canvassers throughout the Capitol region.
“After-all of that, if she doesn’t win,” said a veteran of Gov. Lawton Chiles’ administration speaking on background, “we’re going to have ask ourselves, what’s up? What more could have been done?”