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Steve Southerland will not challenge Gwen Graham in 2016, says his former chief of staff

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U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham can breathe easier, at least if her former opponent’s chief aide knows what he is talking about.

Jonathan Hayes, who served as chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, emailed members of the Bay County Republican Executive Committee to inform them that the two-term Republican will not be seeking a rematch against Graham in 2016.

“Just wanted to let you all know that Steve will not be running for CD 2 re-election,” Hayes wrote on Monday in an email obtained by Florida Politics.

Southerland was first elected during the Tea Party movement in 2010.

Southerland’s intentions “will become public later this week or early next week,” writes Hayes.

Hayes’ comments run counter to a story in conservative outlet Sunshine State News that “Whispers are growing louder that Steve Southerland could seek a rematch with Gwen Graham in 2016.”

Actually, those whispers are so “loud” that Hayes told his Republican colleagues that he has accepted a job as chief of staff for Arizona U.S. Rep. Trent Franks.

Hayes is the Republican State Committeeman from Bay County and, presumably, will be stepping down from that position.

Hayes’ email was in response to a Feb. 7 message from James Peacock inquiring what was being done to unseat Graham, who he said “did not take long … to fall in line with President Obama.”

Defeating Graham in 2016 will be “tough,” writes Hayes, who notes that “the demographics are brutal with over 85,000 more Dems than Rs.”

As for Graham, she is “voting just right so that she isn’t seen as liberal.”

“Our base has to acknowledge that FL CD 2 is not a hard-right district,” Hayes writes. “I am afraid we gave this seat back to the Dems for the foreseeable future.”

In 2014, Graham beat Southerland in one of the country’s most expensive congressional races.

The Center for Responsive Politics listed the contest as the eighth most expensive congressional race in the country, with more than $14 million spent.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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