As 2017 sets and the 2018 election year begins to dawn, Gwen Graham clearly is contemplating what it means to be a woman in the Florida governor’s race in an era of time when gender issues have been sparked aflame by the recent flurry of sexual harassment and assault cases and the #MeToo movement.
Elections this year have shown powerful effects of women’s votes in Virginia and Alabama, with the flurry of sexual harassment cases and the #MeToo movement, in which women throughout the world began telling their stories on social media and elsewhere of experiences with sexual harassment and sexual abuse, falling in between those elections.
“I think being a woman is an advantage, particularly at this time, because I can understand a perspective that [men,] I just think it’s difficult to walk in the shoes of woman who has lived in a man’s world,” she said.
“Everywhere I go, everywhere I go, and this is pre- the #MeToo movement, pre-Virginia, pre-Alabama, I feel that women are engaged, and this is in a bipartisan way. I go all over the state and I have women say, ‘I’m a Republican, and I can’t wait to vote for you,’ Graham said Monday. “I think it’s a recognition of what I represent, and as a woman as well, is a type of leadership that is something that we can all feel positive about.”
Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, was in Orlando Monday to perform one of her “Work Days” at the Second Harvest Food Bank, volunteering a shift to help bring in donated food and prepare it for distribution to churches and pantries throughout Central Florida to help feed the needy.
Like all the candidates, Graham’s bigger challenge will be to expand beyond her natural constituencies. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate, has unabashedly been trying to lock up Florida’s rural and small-town voters, and the state’s big business community. Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has earned strong support from many leaders of Florida’s African-American community. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is of South Florida, where the lion’s share of Florida’s Democrats live, and also appeals to business leaders willing to support a Democrat. Winter Park Democrat Chris King also seeks to appeal to the business community and to younger voters, since he is of them. That’s the base for their 2017 starts. They all would need more.
To date only Putnam has broken out with any signs of dominance, both in fundraising and in statewide polls, and his “Up and Adam” breakfasts, as ubiquitous as Graham’s Work Days, have given him hand-to-hand, and face-to-face time with voters, scores at a time, throughout the state. Levine, the newest major candidate, has shown early robust fundraising and already is using his money to run television commercials to expand his name recognition within and beyond South Florida.
Graham also is counting on her base expanding through her message on issues, particularly public education, the environment, the economy, and investing in the state’s infrastructure, but also because of her family’s legacy. The Graham brand remains strong, she said, due to her father Bob Graham‘s eight years as governor in the 1970s and ’80s, and his 18 years in the U.S. Senate in from 1987 to 2005. People remember, she said, and she’s not discounting what she said is the fond response she daily receives from her father’s supporters.
But if the 2018 elections are as affected by women voters as 2017 suggests, it may be because women can provide a different kind of leadership, something that voters across the board hunger for, Graham said.
“I think one of the things that’s important about the #MeToo issue is the recognition of imbalance of power. And why it’s so important we elect more women into leadership positions. I think women bring a different leadership approach than men,” she said.