Saturday, September 22, 2018
Politics

How first-time candidate Gwen Graham defeated a GOP incumbent

In June, when most congressional candidates were focused on building campaigns or dealing with primary opponents, Gwen Graham made the call to go up on TV.

"I know it's frustrating, but we've all had it up to here with Congress," the Democrat said, wearing a royal blue button-down and sitting in a cozy den, family pictures behind her. "I'm Gwen Graham. I'm a wife and a working mom."

She had the North Florida airwaves to herself — for two months — defining herself before Republicans could. It was one of a number of smart moves her campaign made and, in hindsight, one of the costly mistakes committed by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, whom Graham narrowly defeated Tuesday.

Her victory was one of only a few highlights for Democrats nationally, and it vaults Graham to the top of a barren Democratic bench in Florida.

Graham raised more money than Southerland and, observers on both sides say, outhustled him. Steve Schale, a strategist who helped with the campaign, said at one point last year he worried she was wearing herself thin and told Graham's father, Bob Graham, the former governor and senator.

The next day Schale got a text message from the candidate. "It read like, 'Don't you ever go to my dad and tell him I need a rest,' " Schale recalled Thursday.

Graham also had a focused message, stressing local values — "The North Florida way," as her ads often said — and not allowing herself to be boxed in as a Democrat, lightly criticizing President Barack Obama over his response to ISIS and saying the Affordable Care Act needed changes.

Southerland was his own enemy. He had built up an opposition book worth of gaffes, from suggesting the $174,000 congressional salary wasn't that much to a "lingerie shower" comment in defense of his all-male fundraiser.

The Republican brought in some big names, including Sen. Marco Rubio, but they only reinforced the Washington image. Graham had Jimmy Buffett and former President Bill Clinton, who showed up for a rally in late October at Florida A&M.

Her father — and the family name — was an obvious asset.

In the end, Graham's team saved itself by building a huge advantage in Leon and Gadsden counties, Democratic strongholds. She got 81,605 votes there vs. 42,380 for Southerland. He did well in Bay County, as expected, but in the small counties, Graham pulled just enough support to prevent a landslide.

"If you move 50 or 100 people, it adds up in a close race," said Schale, who credited Graham's team, which included campaign manager Julia Gill Woodward.

"Our field director Jenn Whitcomb and her team kicked butt," said Eric Jotkoff, another adviser.

Final tally: 125,139 votes for Graham, 122,945 for Southerland — 50.44 percent to 49.56 percent.

Comments
Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

TAMPA — During a showdown Friday in Florida’s most hotly contested state Senate race, Democratic challenger Janet Cruz launched fireworks at Dana Young over education funding, the environment and guns.Young, the Republican incumbent in District 18, r...
Published: 09/21/18
Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

TEMPLE TERRACE — After complaints from city residents, the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club has notified the City Council that it will not rent space again to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for its annual banquet.The country clubȁ...
Published: 09/20/18
Carlton: Should felons who have done their time get to vote? Citizens of Florida, it’s in your hands

Carlton: Should felons who have done their time get to vote? Citizens of Florida, it’s in your hands

It’s not often that we citizens — busy with work, paying the bills, living our lives — find ourselves with the power to right a fundamental wrong.But here in Florida, we’re about to get that chance.On the November ballot — among all those candidates ...
Published: 09/20/18
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

This has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. As the force behind a number ...
Published: 09/19/18
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18