WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WFSU Local News

Boyd Fights GOP Tide in District 2 Race

Tallahassee, FL – In Florida's Second Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Allen Boyd faces a tight race against political newcomer Steve Southerland. The National Republican Congressional Committee is backing Southerland, a Panama City businessman who says the election comes down to one thing: a vote against U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Margie Menzel reports.

Boyd is a leader of Congress' Blue Dog Democrats, formed during the Clinton Administration as fiscal conservatives who pushed back against the "tax-and-spend" types in their own party. But Boyd's long insistence on "pay-as-you-go" is drowning in a tidal wave of anger over his votes on health care reform, the stimulus and cap and trade.

"We think he's one of the most vulnerable members of Congress, and that's why we're spending a lot of money to oust him," said Andy Sere, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Sere says Boyd's seven terms in Congress are working against him as well as for him.

"Incumbency cuts both ways in an election cycle like this, where voters are frustrated with Washington," he said. "And especially when Allen Boyd voted for pretty much every major piece of legislation that has North Floridians frustrated at Washington."

And that's exactly how challenger Southerland is playing it. A Panama City funeral director, Southerland told an Oct. 13 candidate forum at the conservative Northeast Business Association that the election comes down to one vote.

"And that vote is: are you pleased with the current direction of our country? And if you are, then you want Nancy Pelosi to continue to sit in the Speaker's chair," Southerland said. "Well, I will tell you this: A vote for any one of my three opponents will ensure that she continues to sit in that chair."

Also in the race: independent Dianne Berryhill, who's calling for a government, quote, "of the people and not of the political parties," and Paul McKain, who says he's the most conservative candidate.

Boyd touted his conservative credentials, saying he's the only candidate in the race to have worn his country's uniform. He dismissed charges that he'd flip-flopped on health care reform, saying he'd held out for a better bill. And he defended his vote for health care reform against those who - like Southerland - would repeal it.

"Do they want to repeal the provision that allows students who can't find a job to stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 years old?," Boyd asked. "[Do] they want to repeal the pre-existing conditions provision? They want to repeal the doughnut hole? They want to repeal the provision that disallows an insurance company from taking you off their insurance because you get sick? What is it that he wants to repeal?"

Not only is Boyd swimming against a conservative tide, but his district is changing, says political scientist Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida.

"The problem for Boyd is that a lot of the smaller rural counties are very conservative, much more than he, and they don't like Obama and they don't like Congress," said MacManus. "And they're still stinging from the oil spill handling, which they don't think was done very effectively by the federal government."

MacManus also said the turnout was unusually high in the District 2 primaries, but she doesn't see some traditionally Democratic constituencies getting to the polls for Boyd.

"It also appears - just from my conversations with college students at USF - that rekindling the fires and passions of working in a campaign, it's just not happening," she said. "It's getting late, and early voting starts next week, and I just don't see that Democrats are going to be as effective at getting out the vote in this midterm as they have been in the past."

Andy Sere says the National Republican Congressional Committee is buying TV ads for Southerland, mostly in Tallahassee, but branching out to Panama City.

"We feel good about the position we're in," he said, "but now it's October, voters are starting to really pay attention and we're not taking anything for granted. We assume things will tighten, but we feel like we're in a strong position."