At Tiger Bay debate, Steve Southerland and Gwen Graham respectfuly agree to disagree

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Congressman Steve Southerland and Democratic challenge Gwen Graham began Wednesday’s debate in Tallahassee with a hug. About 500 attended the Capital Tiger Bay luncheon where the two candidates in one of the more competitive House races discussed their positions on healthcare, immigration and the Mid-East.

The 2nd District candidates were more measured in their words compared to last month’s debate which resembled a WWE rhetorical spectacle between The Lady in Red and The Snarling Undertaker; the two questioned each other’s character and called each other liars when they spoke before Tallahassee’s Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates.

This time, Graham dressed in gray and Southerland came armed with quips. The two appeared to be courting voters in the center.

Both countered the other’s talking points. Graham reminded Southerland that he is running against her and not Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama and Harry Reid. Southerland said despite the narrative created by the “mainstream media” that he is cooperative and not anti-women.

“The proof is in the pudding. The proof is in the Congressional record book,” said Southerland noting that he has been appointed to conference committees twice to resolve differences on transportation and agricultural issues.  Southerland said as a fourth generation funeral director he knows how to bring people together during difficult circumstances.

While Southerland blamed Congressional gridlock on Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, Graham blamed both parties and dismissed Southerland’s assertion that she was a Pelosi protégé.

In response to a question by moderator Carl Canon, Graham said she would not support Rep. Pelosi to be Speaker of the U.S. House.

“I believe we need new leadership on both sides of the aisle,” said Graham. “The leaders that we have today have become so polarizing and so politicized that – I’m not blaming either of them. But it’s the reality. We need new leadership.”

Graham also criticized Obama’s response to ISSIS and said she thinks Democrats bit off more than they could chew with the Affordable Care Act. Concerning the ACA, she said she supports identifying and fixing problems in the health care program.

“As I travel around the district I have talked to so many people who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act.  Who have children, who have sisters and brothers and fathers who if not for the Affordable Care Act, quite honestly . . . who have a preexisting condition and could not get healthcare,” said Graham.

Southerland voiced his support for Speaker John Boehner remaining as the leader of the House and said that the ACA was the end result of a bad legislative process and probably played a role in his election four years ago.

“This law was passed after midnight, with no bi-partisan agreement,” said Southerland.

“I have to tell you when 300,000 Floridians lose their coverage, premiums are set to rise over 13 percent next year . . . That is not acceptable,” said Southerland.

The 2nd Congressional District race is tight with national pundits considering the race a tossup with the Southerland having a “weak hold” on the seat.  Elections Projection has poll data and other information on the race here.