Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

For Graham family, it may be time for another of them to run for Florida governor

Former Sen. Bob Graham and his daughter, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, talk Tuesday morning in Philadelphia. [ADAM C. SMITH | Times]
Former Sen. Bob Graham and his daughter, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, talk Tuesday morning in Philadelphia. [ADAM C. SMITH | Times]
Published Jul. 27, 2016

PHILADELPHIA

Florida Democrats are ready to elect another Clinton. How about another Graham?

In a megastate where political dynasties are remarkably common (Bilirakis, Castor, Meek, Diaz-Balart, Mack) nobody should underestimate the strength of the most politically successful Democratic name in modern Florida history.

That's especially true when the gregarious oldest daughter of former two-term governor and three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has already shown her considerable political skill. In 2014, she defeated a GOP congressman in heavily Republican north Florida.

I met with Rep. Gwen Graham, 53, and her parents, Bob and Adele, in an empty ballroom Tuesday at a downtown Philadelphia Marriott. They wouldn't come out and say it directly, but this clearly is a family poised for another Graham gubernatorial campaign.

"Look at the last eight years underneath Gov. (Rick) Scott's administration. In my opinion we need to look for someone that's committed to doing not what's partisan but what's right. What I've done in Congress is work together with people across the ideological spectrum. We need to be bringing people together," Rep. Graham said. "Our economy, our environment, education — these are issues that need a balancing voice in Tallahassee to start making the right decisions."

In a tough climate for Democrats across the country, she was one of two Democrats nationally to unseat Republican incumbents in 2014. But redistricting turned that Panhandle district into an overwhelmingly safe GOP seat, effectively ensuring she could represent that district just one term.

Graham is one of several potential Democratic candidates for governor addressing Florida delegates at their daily convention breakfasts this week. So is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Miami Beach Mayor and businessman Philip Levine. South Florida state Sen. Jeremy Ring, another businessman, also is exploring a run, while so far the only likely top tier Republican candidate is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The lack of experience in elective office is likely to be a plus and minus for Graham. Skeptics will call her too inexperienced, while others will see a woman who is neither a career politician nor a rookie.

"For most political offices, the central question is judgment. Does this person bring to the office the ability to analyze, organize and execute on whatever the problem happens to be," said Bob Graham, 79, adding that his daughter has that judgment as well as a knack for bringing people together and bipartisan cooperation.

The eldest of his four daughters leans on him for advice regularly. He said they have disagreed at least initially on some decisions — such as her support for the controversial Keystone Pipeline — but not after she explains the process she went through to make that decision.

After eight years of Gov. Scott learning about a state he had only recently adopted before running for governor, the Graham family's Florida roots are likely to be part of her message.

"That love that we have for the state is something we will bring back to the governor's mansion if I'm lucky enough to run and win," Rep. Graham said.

Her family clearly is on board.

"It's an absolutely wonderful commitment to our state. I think that's why Gwen is running. She sees the need, and she's prepared, and she certainly understands and she will be a great governor," said Adele Graham, describing her husband and oldest daughter as two peas in a pod.

"Gwen has been by our side throughout our political career," said Mrs. Graham, 78. "All of our daughters have been very supportive of their dad and interested in his career and very proud, but Gwen has been a part of what he's accomplished and I think learned a great deal."

Running in and representing a Republican-leaning district, Graham in 2014 kept her distance from Barack Obama. She's not keeping her distance from Hillary Clinton at all.

"We're getting ready to elect the first woman as president," she said Tuesday. "Wouldn't it be a nice segue to elect the first woman governor of Florida?"

Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.