What's In A Name? Graham Campaign Hopes A Spot In Congress

Aug 1, 2014

One of the hottest races in the country during the 2014 election cycle is shaping up to be North Florida’s Second Congressional district. The district stretches from Taylor County west to Bay County and Panama City and is largely rural. It’s here, where the current incumbent and Tea-Party backed Republican Congressman is being challenged by an upstart Democrat with a powerful family name.

Gwen Graham, an in-house attorney for the Leon County School District, is the daughter of former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. And she hasn’t been shy about exploiting the family ties, with ads like this one featuring her father airing across Florida’s Second Congressional District.

During her campaign, Graham has also assumed her father’s habit of work days—doing the jobs of the people who she hopes, one day, will become her constituents. Eight members of the Graham family were out in force at Second Harvest of the Big Bend helping to sort incoming food donations.

“This is my 13th workday. Dad’s a little ahead of me, this is his 409th. But I will continue to do workdays throughout this campaign, and once I’m elected I will continue to do workdays," she says.

Bob Graham says he couldn’t be prouder of his daughter’s effort. The workdays have also been picked up by other politicians, notably Governor Rick Scott. But the man who holds the job Gwen Graham wants, Congressman Steve Southerland, is not impressed with the tactic.

“Ms. Graham is much higher on who her father is than her ideas to solve the problems Florida’s Second Congressional District faces," Southerland says. "She has yet to state where she disagrees with President Obama. His vision of America is not embraced in Florida Congressional Two [district].” 

Graham isn’t the only politician making note of her family ties.  Georgia has two races where relatives are running for seats previously occupied by family members. And the tradition of running on the family name goes all the way up to Washington.

But some people believe families in politics aren’t a good thing. And former Florida state Senator Al Lawson, who challenged Congressman Steve Southerland in 2012 and lost, agrees.

“I think in the past, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but now, because there’s so many people reluctant to get involved in politics, you find now a lot of it runs in families, and families support other people, and I think you’ll see more of that because kids grow up in that environment, Lawson says.

He believes that could lead to narrower choices for voters in the future. Lawson had been considering a re-match against Southerland this year but declined, partly he says because of still paying off campaign debts and adds, “the Graham people didn’t want to face me in a primary and it would have been difficult for them to come out of a primary. It would have been difficult for them to come out of the primary if I were in the race.” 

Outside dollars for the race have also poured in, with the national Democratic Party and Republican parties dumping money into it to support their respective candidates. So far, Graham has out-raised Southerland by more than $160,000 with both candidates’ fundraising figures at more than a million each. Southerland is unfazed. 

"I think the key for us is to give a vision of what we represent and what our goals are going forward. I think we match up very well with Ms. Graham.”

The Southerland campaign is gearing up to fight back—with the Congressman himself heading back to Florida to start campaigning in force.

“I think this is going to be a hard fought race, but one where we will ultimately be successful, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Interest in the race is growing. Last month the political magazine Roll Call upgraded the matchup from “leans Republican” to toss-up.