Florida Democrats’ Savior

It was a small miracle that Gwen Graham won her House seat last November. During one of the worst years for Democrats in modern history, she faced a Republican incumbent in a Florida panhandle district where Mitt Romney beat President Obama by six percentage points. Nevertheless, she eked out a three thousand vote win.

While she had many advantages unavailable to most Democratic challengers, including a father who served as Governor and Senator in Florida, the keys to her upset win were her political savvy and ability to connect with rural voters, a skill that all too many Democrats these days lack.

Her unlikely victory caught the attention not only of a shrinking House Democratic caucus, but also of a demoralized Florida Democratic Party. After four years of Florida’s tea party Governor Rick Scott, they believed they had finally found the candidate who could unseat him in ex-Republican, ex-independent Democrat Charlie Crist. However, Scott managed to carry the state by running up the score in Florida’s rural counties. Without presidential election-level turnout in urban Democratic strongholds, Crist couldn’t make up for Scott’s rural margins. It seemed that as long as Florida held statewide elections in midterm years, Democrats would be locked out.

Graham’s victory provided Florida Democrats with an alternative vision for the future. Talk began of a possible gubernatorial bid for Graham in 2018, when Governor Scott will be term-limited out of office. And 2018 has the distinction of being the most important gubernatorial election of the decade: Whoever occupies the governor’s mansion after the election will work with the Florida General Assembly, which will almost certainly be heavily conservative, to draw new congressional districts. Controlling the governorship could mean the difference between Republicans further gerrymandering the state and Democrats finally getting a fair shake at an even map.

However, if Graham is to run for governor in 2018, she has to survive her 2016 congressional election, one in which the National Republican Congressional Committee has already taken aim at as one of their top targets for the next election cycle. And in her heavily Republican district, there’s a deep bench of Republican state legislators who could take her on.

National Republicans have already put in motion a plan to take her out before she can become a threat. While Graham voted for the authorization of the Keystone Pipeline, that wasn’t enough to fend off robocalls hammering her for not being enthusiastic enough in her opposition to Obama’s veto thereat. As Republicans try to paint her as just another hardcore liberal, Graham is already laying the groundwork for her reelection in running against the pettiness of Washington.

During the Homeland Security funding fight, Graham not only promised her constituents that she would refuse to accept her salary if DHS funding lapsed, but she also sponsored a bill that would withhold all congressional pay if they failed to fund the department. She’s also introduced legislation that would prevent members of Congress from using taxpayer funds to fly first class. Knowing that her vote would be irrelevant, she refused to vote Nancy Pelosi for speaker, a move that will be critical to her reelection campaign.

Whether Graham can again overcome the headwinds of her district will depend on which of the two narratives that voters believe. If Republicans can sell Graham as an out of touch Washington liberal, she will crash and burn as a one time congresswoman. However, if she can convince voters that she is a politician above the partisan fray who has their best interests in mind, her odds of victory rise dramatically.

Because the stakes are so high, she is likely to have one of the most expensive House races in the county. Even if she can win the trust of her constituents over the next year and a half, a tide of negative ads could quickly demolish all the progress she’s made. Having a robust fundraising operation to combat the inevitable onslaught will be a necessity for her immediate survival and possible run for the governorship — we can only hope that national Democrats are willing to at least match the GOP’s intense focus on her race.

While she might not be everything that liberals love to see in a candidate, Graham is likely one of the only Democrats who can win statewide in Florida. And if a Governor Graham can secure a fairer legislative and congressional map statewide, Democrats will have a much stronger bench to build momentum in the state after years of Republican dominance.

Jacob Hopkins is a first year student at Kenyon College. He hails from the great state of Arkansas, where he worked on Mark Pryor’s 2014 campaign to retain his Senate seat. He writes on LGBT issues, climate change and Congress.

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18 Responses to “Florida Democrats’ Savior”

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  3. olandp says:

    She sounds like a blue dog democrat. If the choice is Republican or Republican-lite, what is the point of voting. I am myself a yellow dog and always vote so my choice is in the primary. If this is the best we can do we are screwed.

  4. Indigo says:

    Maybe she’s viable as a Democratic candidate in Arkansas but here in Flaw’d Florid’oh, not so much. The local Democrats are falling apart, that much is true, but she’s no lynch pin of survival, let alone a “savior.” Where’s the Jesus-talk coming from? “Saviors” in politics? Oh, I’m afraid I’m not on that page. Ever.

  5. Indigo says:

    That’s funny! In 1930s Japan, everyone had to register at the local Shinto shrine because . . . state religion! Just say no.

  6. Rambie says:

    The more they loose the more desperate and weird the GOP’ers get.

  7. mirth says:

    If we are thinking about the welfare of this poor dysfunctional country, electing Neos to any office, regardless the letter after their name, has as much significance as Glenn Beck leaving the Republican party.


  8. nicho says:

    On can only hope, but since we’ve become The Bizzaro States of America, I don’t take anything for granted. Case in point: Citizens United.

  9. Naja pallida says:

    If there’s anything we should have learned by now is that there is no such thing as a single person ‘savior’ of any party or legislature. That’s simply not how our system works. Once said ‘savior’ is required to work within the system to get things done, they’re ultimately and inevitably corrupted by it.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    Probably unconstitutional? It’s definitely and blatantly unconstitutional. Taking a civil institution away from the American people, and putting it in the hands of a religious authority is the very essence of unconstitutional. What’s next, you have to get a priest to sign off on whether you can get a home mortgage or co-sign a lease with another person, to ensure you’re not cohabitating and fornicating before marriage? No, this is going to evaporate the first court challenge it sees.

  11. 2karmanot says:

    So, we have to go to Father Diddle for a marriage license? That’s sucks (pardon the pun)

  12. 2karmanot says:

    Sorry Jacob—still, great though

  13. The_Fixer says:

    Except it was Jacob Hopkins who wrote this :)

    But I share the sentiment.

  14. The_Fixer says:

    I doubt that she is going to be the savior for Democrats in Florida just yet. I think the voting population has to change in Florida before we see Democrats on the rise there. It’s clear to me that when it comes to Florida, the inmates are running the asylum (Wisconsin, where I live, has a similar situation).

    Interesting point about the coming redistricting. Though I do wonder how one lone Democratic governor would fare against a solidly Republican legislature in crazyland.

  15. 2karmanot says:

    Well done John. Even more systemic to the flailing failure of the Democratic Party is the extreme damage caused by Obama, whose weak leadership, neo-liberalism, ‘No We Can’t’, Obama Care giveaway to Insurance corporations and appeasements in the name of Bi-partisanship have set back the brand for a generation, if not weakened it permanently.

  16. Norwood Orrick says:

    Gwen Graham is a good center-right Republican. It’s a shame that she’s being lauded by DLC types as the next Dem savior.

  17. nicho says:

    OT, but in case anyone isn’t up to speed on this, it’s important.


    In an effort to undermine same-sex marriage, Oklahoma has voted to take issuing of marriage licenses out of the hands of state authorities and give it to the clergy. This means that in order to qualify for property protection, tax benefits, child custody, etc., you will have to get the approval of a “religious leader.”

    First, it’s probably unconstitutional. Second, there are plenty of clergy in OK who are onboard with same-sex marriage. And now that the Presbyterians have voted in favor of it, there may be more.

    It’s still annoying to see these scumbag tin-pot theocrats trying to take people’s rights away.

  18. AndyinChicago says:

    Huh. This is a good candidate to keep in mind when looking for whom to support in 2016. Thanks for the insight.

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