Graham is challenging two-term GOP Rep. Steve Southerland in a district Democrats think they can flip in 2014
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — Possessing one of the most storied names in Florida politics and Washington media circles, Democrat Gwen Graham has launched a bid for a GOP-held House seat in northern Florida that’s a prime target for Democrats in 2014.
Graham, 50, is the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who was also elected Florida’s governor during a political career that spanned nearly four decades. She is also a member of the Graham family that for decades owned the Washington Post. (The Post’s legendary publisher, Katherine Graham, was Gwen Graham’s aunt by marriage.)
She is seeking the 2nd District seat now held by Rep. Steve Southerland, 47, who was a Panama City funeral director with no political experience when he defeated incumbent Democrat Allen Boyd in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
The district sprawls across 17 counties in the Big Bend area of the Florida Panhandle, including Panama City and part of Tallahassee.
Mitt Romney carried the district with 52 percent of the vote in 2012. However, this district is perhaps the last “yellow dog” Democratic district left in Florida – the type of place where Graham’s father always ran strong — with a majority of its voters registered as Democrats.
Southerland held the seat with just 53 percent of the vote in 2012, giving Democrats hope that they can flip the seat in the 2014 cycle.
Graham, who has never sought political office before, is billing herself as “an independent voice standing up for North Florida.” Not surprisingly, in a district with large numbers of federal workers and military families, she has hammered Southerland over the government shutdown, even calling on him to donate his salary to charity during the standoff.
“Like so many in Washington, Congressman Southerland has forgotten that Congress exists to solve problems, not be an arena for political sport,” she said.
For his part, Southerland has defended the Republican strategy of trying to tie government funding to repeal of Obamacare. He was co-author of a measure that would have delayed implementation for Obamacare for a year in return for a funding measure.
“I have heard the people of North and Northwest Florida loud and clear,” Southerland said. “They don’t want an interruption in the vital services they expect from their government, but they do want to delay Obamacare.”
Southerland is already getting heavy-duty help in his re-election, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appearing at a fundraiser for him in August.
One key question for Graham is whether she will face a primary challenge from former State Senator Alfred Lawson, who nearly toppled Boyd in a primary in 2010 and won the party’s nomination for the seat over a more conservative Democrat in 2012.
The racial makeup of the district would be a key in a primary. Nearly 25 percent of the 2nd Districts residents are black, which means black voters will make up a sizeable portion of the Democratic electorate. Lawson is black; Graham is white.