Gwen Graham, a former North Florida congresswoman and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, officially announced her bid for governor Tuesday, becoming the first major female candidate in a crowded field.
"I am so proud to announce I am running to serve as Florida's next governor," she said.
Graham focused much of her speech on supporting public schools and criticized the state for grading public schools and focusing on standardized tests.
"As governor I will not just criticize this culture of teaching to the test: I will end high-stakes testing," she vowed.
Graham's announcement in Miami Gardens was no surprise because she has essentially acted as if she was running for the 2018 race during the past year.
In April 2016, Graham announced she wouldn't seek election to her seat in Congress, which was redrawn to favor Republicans, and was seriously considering a race for governor.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term-limited, prompting many candidates to likely run from both major parties.
On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King are running and potential contenders including Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and trial attorney John Morgan. On the Republican side, term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced Monday that he had filed his paperwork to run. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran may also run.
Democrats are eager for a win in 2018 because Republicans hold all the statewide Cabinet positions and control both chambers of the state Legislature. The only Democrat to hold statewide office in Florida is U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces re-election next year and could face Scott. But Democrats have failed to produce candidates who excite voter-rich South Florida in non-presidential years.
Graham drew the attention of Democrats nationally since she defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Southerland in the Panhandle-based district in 2014. Her supporters say a Democrat who is a centrist and can draw votes in a conservative area has a shot in the swing state of Florida.
But in a statewide Democratic primary, she will face heat from opponents for some right-leaning votes she took in favor of the Keystone pipeline, rolling back Wall Street regulations, and in support of tougher immigration restrictions for Syrian refugees.
When asked after her announcement speech if she regrets any of those votes, she said, "I am proud of my record. I would ask people to take a look at my whole record and my record is one that supports my district as well as the state of Florida."
Graham vowed to raise the minimum wage, ban fracking, and to use money from the voter-approved Amendment 1 to protect land. She criticized Scott for banning use of the term "climate change" and portrayed him as only looking out for the rich.
"My love for Florida runs deep," she said. "My dreams for Florida run wide, but my patience for inaction in this state that I love has run out and that is why I am running for governor and that is why I am determined to win."