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Southerland Attracts First Opponent For 2014

With a little more than 19 months left until the November 2014 midterm elections the battle for Florida’s 2nd congressional district is already heating up. Incumbent Republican Steve Southerland has already drawn his first Democratic opponent in the race.

It seems as though it was only yesterday that Congressman Southerland was defending his seat against Democratic challenger Al Lawson. Only a few months after he defeated Lawson by six percentage points, Southerland now has a new challenger- the daughter of former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Gwen Graham says her experience in politics and upbringing in Tallahassee makes her uniquely qualified for Southerland’s job. And she said the incumbent Congressman isn't bi-partisan enough to represent the panhandle.

“The autopsy provides some very moderate positions that the Republicans might consider taking as they move forward. Unfortunately, Congressman Southerland is not a moderate, he’s an extremist,” Graham said.

The Republican National Committee “autopsy” was conducted by Chairman Reince Priebus to try and figure out why the party lost ground in 2012. Although he was a success story for Republicans in 2012 by defeating his Democratic challenger, Southerland thinks the party needs to communicate better, but that its values and policies shouldn't be compromised.

“We have to make sure that we explain why we believe the way we believe; I think sometimes we fail in doing that. Rules without relationship leads to rebellion,” Southerland said.

A major wedge between Southerland’s party and many voters is same-sex marriage, with recent polls showing that even a majority of younger Republican voters support it and so does Gwen Graham.

“Now, I certainly don’t believe that any religion should be forced to compromise their values but in terms of having equality under the law, I certainly would want my children to be able to benefit from that,” Graham said.

Southerland still personally believes in the definition of marriage as one man and one woman. But, his position on the matter seems to have softened since his election in 2010 when he supported an all-out ban. 

“I believe in state’s rights and I believe this is something the states need to handle. So, it’s continuing to get more and more say. I have always been an advocate of marriage between a man and a woman. However, I want to recognize the rights of individuals of same sex to live together and to have a union,” Southerland said.

The candidates seem to agree on at least two issues, gun control and the sequester. Both Graham and Southerland are strong supporters of the 2nd amendment and have voiced their disapproval of the automatic spending cuts. The final list of candidates running for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District is far from set in stone. Former State Senator Al Lawson hasn't said whether he would or wouldn't try to unseat Southerland again in 2014.