Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham says she’s giving up on Congress and “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.”
In an early Thursday email, the Tallahassee congresswoman wrote, “I have major news, and I want you to hear it first” (even though at least two news media outlets actually broke the story first).
“The politicians, lobbyists and courts in Tallahassee have been working to redraw and divide the North Florida district I represent — they’ve turned what was an example of a fair district, into two partisan districts,” she said.
A recent court-ordered redistricting of the state’s congressional districts turned hers, the 2nd District, into a Republican-leaning one that divides her home Leon County in two.
Fellow Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown‘s 5th District was stretched west into Graham’s territory, eating into her Democratic support base. So far, she’s being challenged by two Republicans, physician Neal Dunn of Panama City and attorney Mary Thomas of Tallahassee.
“This is a perfect example of how dysfunctional our state government has become, and it’s caused me to rethink how I can best serve the people of North Florida and our state,” Graham added, saying she’d begun thinking about the Governor’s Office.
“Public servants must focus on the job they’re elected to do, so I will spend the remainder of my term fully representing you in Congress, but I will not seek re-election while considering this next step of service.”
Statewide politics experts gave Graham a thumbs-up on the announcement.
“In many respects, this is the best option for her,” said Darryl Paulson, a retired professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “She’s now first out of the gate and can campaign freely.”
She has broken out of a pack of rumored contenders on both sides of the aisle, including Democratic Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, among others.
Moreover, the Graham name still holds cachet, especially among longtime Floridians, added Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor.
Her father is former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.
“Plus, she’s shown she can organize and raise money, so she would be competitive around the state,” Jewett said. “And being a moderate, pro-business Democrat only helps give her a greater appeal in a statewide race.”
Federal Election Commission records show Graham has cash on hand of $1.7 million in her “Graham for Congress” committee, money which she can use for a state race. Generally, candidates can apply federal campaign dollars toward runs for state political office.
University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus said Graham also projects a “warm personality” — she’s known for being a hugger — and that explains why she accompanied her announcement with a video message (below).
Not that the news was greeted warmly by some party regulars, who quickly took to social media to blast her as “GOP-lite.”
But announcing this far in advance also means Graham can “see how much hostility she gets early on before she makes a decision,” MacManus said.
Between now and then, “there will be lots of focus groups, polls,” MacManus said. “Why not let people know now you’re at least thinking about it?”
Jim Rosica (email@example.com) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee.