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Conservative Southern U.S. House members go down

Republicans make a net gain of four seats across the region

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states smELECTION CENTRAL (CFP) — Four embattled Democratic incumbents who represent conservative U.S. House districts lost their seats in the November 4 midterm election, while the GOP lost a  seat in the Florida Panhandle.

The four Democrats — Nick Rahall in West Virginia, John Barrow in Georgia, Joe Garcia in Florida and Pete Gallego in Texas — all represented districts that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. The GOP also took an open Democrat-held seat in North Carolina where Romney also won.

With those wins, the GOP will hold a 112-39 advantage in Southern U.S. House seats come January.

U.S. House nominee Gwen Graham

U.S. House nominee Gwen Graham

The Democrats’ only good news came in Florida’s Tallahassee-centered 2nd District, where Gwen Graham, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, narrowly defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland by a margin of 50 percent to 49 percent.

Democrats had also targeted five open seats in Arkansas, Virginia and West Virginia. Republicans held all five.

Barrow, who represents Georgia’s 12th District, had survived four previous attempts by Republicans to push him from Congress, which included having his district gerrymandered twice by the state legislature. But the fifth time proved the charm as he lost to Republican Rick Allen by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall

Despite 19 terms representing West Virginia in Congress, Rahall could not overcome President Obama’s marked unpopularity in the Mountaineer State, losing to State Senator Evan Jenkins in the 3rd District, by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. .

In Florida’s 26th District, Garcia lost to Republican Carlos Curbelo by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. This Latino-majority district, which stretches from southwest Miami-Dade County to Key West, has now switched hands in the three straight elections.

The GOP also won in Texas’s 23rd District, a vast district that sprawls across more than 500 miles of southwest Texas, from the suburbs of San Antonio to the suburbs of El Paso.

Will Hurd, a former CIA agent who, uniquely, was a black candidate running in a majority Latino district, defeated Gallego by a margin of 50 percent to 48 percent. This closely divided district has now switched hands three times since 2006.

Republicans also picked up a seat in North Carolina’s 7th District, which opened up when Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre decided to retire. Former State Senator David Rouzer easily defeated New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield.

Gwen Graham, daughter of former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, runs for House seat in Florida

Graham is challenging two-term GOP Rep. Steve Southerland in a district Democrats think they can flip in 2014

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

florida mugTALLAHASSEE, 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.


Gwen Graham

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.

Rep. Steve Southerland

Rep. Steve Southerland

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.

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