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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Gwen Graham gets national notice as challenger to Steve Southerland

Stu Rothenberg says Gwen Graham is one of two Democrats to watch in the midterm elections, arguing that "given that (Rep. Steve) Southerland has been one of the most conservative members of the House, Graham might be able to appeal to Republican and swing voters who are uncomfortable both with national Democrats and the current congressman, though the polarized nature of the district and the midterm dynamic with President Barack Obama in the White House creates a tough political environment for her."

More from Rothenberg:

Graham could face a challenge winning her party’s nomination, since 2012 nominee Al Lawson, an African-American former state senator, is considering running again.

Last year, Lawson defeated a white Democratic primary opponent who was preferred by many Democratic insiders, and since the district’s electorate is between one-fifth and one-quarter black, African-Americans make up a large percentage of any Democratic primary. That means Lawson can’t be discounted if he runs again.

Graham believes that she has strength in the black community, and that could help her in a primary against Lawson. And there is no doubt in my mind that Graham would be the far stronger Democratic nominee against Southerland in November.

The 2nd District is already extremely polarized along partisan lines. Lawson carried the district’s largest county, Leon (Tallahassee), easily, but he lost 11 of the district’s remaining 13 counties. Leon is home to two large state universities and state government, and it is reliably Democratic.  But the second-largest county, Bay (Panama City), is as Republican as Leon is Democratic, and most of the vote outside Leon County is conservative.

Moderate white Democrats (such as former Rep. Allen Boyd) have carried the 2nd District, but African-American and liberal nominees have problems reaching the 50 percent mark. Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush (2004) each carried the district narrowly, and Southerland won re-election in 2012 with 52.7 percent.

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 1:05am]


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