The 2014 election cycle is still a year away, but in North Florida, the campaign for the state’s Second Congressional District is already in high gear.
National Democrats smell blood.
“What voters are looking for, is someone to be the adult in the room and get something done," says Andy Stone, Spokesman for the House Majority SuperPac, which is looking to flip the U.S. House of Representatives from Red to Blue in 2014.
One of the seats the group has set its sights on belongs to Congressman Steve Southerland, a Republican who rode the Tea Party wave to election in 2010 by unseating longtime Blue Dog Democrat Congressman Alan Boyd.
Both parties have identified Southerland as vulnerable. Polls suggest the government shutdown was rough for Republicans nationally and Democrats are looking to capitalize on the GOP’s missteps. His district, which stretches from Taylor County to Panama City, is split ideologically, with Tallahassee a Democratic stronghold and much of the Panhandle conservative. Stone thinks Democrats have a shot at giving Southerland the boot next year, although he admits it won’t be easy:
“Everything we’ve seen has demonstrated its going to be a really competitive race, and that’s why we’re invested here," Stone said.
That investment has manifested itself in anti-Southerland ads that have been running for weeks in North Florida.
But recently Republicans have begun firing back with ads of their own.
“I think our number one concern is the message that’s being spread," says Abagail McIver, spokeswoman for Americans For Prosperity of Florida, the group behind the ads thanking the Congressman for his work.
“I think the Democrats and the campaign and the people who are supporting Gwen Graham are using the typical D.C. Democrat talking points, just pointing the finger at Republicans, and if that’s the only message that constituents are hearing, they’re going to believe it.”
Graham is the daughter of former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. The latest campaign finance reports show Graham both outraised and outspent Southerland in the third quarter. She also has about 10-thousand more dollars on hand than the Congressman has. But the third quarter reports only cover the period up to September 30th—just prior to the federal government shutdown.
During a recent town hall event in Bay County, Southerland faced a crowd of both supporters and opponents, an example of just how divided his district is. Southerland told WMBB-TV in Panama City he stands by his decision to vote against the compromise deal that ended the federal government shutdown:
“I think it fulfilled my promise that I would do everything I could to protect our constituents from a bad law," he said.
But to say the race is too close to call is laughably inadequate. Election Day is still a year away, voters tend to have short memories, and at least on the Democratic side—there are still a few unknowns -- like whether former State Senator Al Lawson will create a primary challenge for Graham.
From WFSU-FM on October 25, 2013.