Bill Clinton Helping Out Gwen Graham Poses Problem for Steve Southerland
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Gwen Graham talks a lot about her father Bob, but she avoids talking about other Democrats she worked for like Howard Dean and John Kerry as she continues her attempt to take down Steve Southerland. Graham won’t even say if she’ll back Nancy Pelosi for speaker, despite the Democrat congressional leader sending money to North Florida to help her. But there is one Democrat you can expect to hear Graham quote in the days to come: Bill Clinton.
This past weekend at the Leadership Blue Dinner, Clinton sung Graham’s praises, saying “how proud I am of the campaign Gwen Graham is running."
As Barack Obama continues to sink in the polls and all signs indicate his wife will run for president in 2016, Clinton’s already warming up to take the political stage for Democrats. Florida will be important in both the primaries and the general election come 2016 and Clinton’s been out in full force. Earlier in the year, he helped Alex Sink in her unsuccessful effort to pick up a House seat for Democrats in a special election. Clinton’s also helped raise money as Democrats look to beat Rick Scott.
Clinton has plenty of reasons to help out Democrats in Florida, especially a promising one like Graham who has the benefit of her father’s last name. Hillary Clinton is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 -- a position she was in in 2008 before Obama caught her. This time, the Clintons don’t want to be surprised by a primary foe, meaning Bill Clinton will be front and center as he tries to collect IOUs for his wife to cash in come 2016. If Clinton helps Graham beat Southerland, he’ll be able to cash in some chips for Hillary down the road.
It’s not unprecedented for Clinton to help Democrats running against Republican congressmen. He did exactly that in 2012, helping out Joe Garcia and Patrick Murphy beat out Republican incumbents. But it is rare and Southerland should be cautious in how he approaches the former president backing Graham. To be sure, Clinton’s support shows Graham isn’t the outsider to Washington she presents herself as, which is probably Southerland’s best line of attack.
Southerland should avoid zeroing in on Clinton, tying him to Graham the way he linked Obama and Pelosi to the likes of Allen Boyd and Al Lawson. Thanks in part to George W. Bush and Obama, Clinton towers over most political figures these days. Despite Obama beating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, the former president proved an excellent asset for the Democratic ticket in 2012, giving a well-regarded speech at the convention and hitting the campaign trail.
Clinton scores points with Americans on a host of fronts. His eight years in office are still seen as the high watermark of the American economy. While there were some conflicts and military actions during his time in office -- Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia -- essentially the Clinton years were peaceful. Despite his personal failings and the impeachment effort that haunted his last years in office, Clinton easily trumps Bush and Obama in many Americans’ minds.
Southerland should ignore the temptation to rehash the Monica Lewinsky mess -- that didn’t work out so well with Rand Paul -- and only bring up Clinton to show Graham isn’t the outsider she claims to be. It’s a much better strategy to try to tag Obama and Pelosi on Graham instead of Clinton.
Tallahassee based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.