Gwen Graham is taking a page out of her fathers political playbook for her congressional campaign in talking about going to the middle while dancing to the left.
In the early stages of her bid to defeat U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., next year, Graham seems to have two basic strategies in place. She reminds voters constantly that her father is Bob Graham who served as both governor and a U.S. senator. Graham also insists she is a moderate, a Graham Democrat who can be an independent voice in Washington.
Graham certainly tries to portray herself as a common-sense moderate who fits into the largely rural Big Bend district Southerland represents.
Our problems cant be blamed on only Republicans or only Democrats we need more people in both parties committed to working together and finding real solutions, Graham wrote in the Why Im Running section of her campaign webpage. Im running for Congress to represent you with an independent voice in Washington. I will work with anyone, regardless of party affiliation, to create jobs, invest in education and balance our budget with a plan that stands up for the middle class, keeps taxes low and protects Medicare and Social Security. I am ready to go to Congress to be part of the solution, not more of the problem.
But, despite her rhetoric, Graham is getting help from liberal groups and Democrat partisans. Back in 2004, Graham was a key staffer for Howard Dean, the most liberal Democrat running for president since George McGovern. She still has ties to Deans camp, including having his strategist Joe Trippi on her payroll as a campaign adviser and has sent thousands his way.
Graham is also getting the support of Emilys List, a large PAC dedicated to electing pro-choice Democrats to office. The moderate and independent Graham joins prominent liberal Florida Democrats like Corrine Brown and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in being endorsed by Emilys List.
On Tuesday, representatives of the teachers' unions came out to praise Graham. Despite her campaigns efforts to remind voters about her PTA experience, Graham spent years as an administrator in the Leon County schools as director of employee relations and later on as division director for professional standards and chief of labor and employee relations. In her positions, Graham had to pay more attentions to public employees than students and families which makes her the ideal candidate for teachers' unions to support.
If all of this sounds familiar, Bob Graham was a master of sounding like a moderate while going left on the issues. This strategy certainly helped him in Florida as he won two gubernatorial elections and three U.S. Senate contests. But when Graham decided to run for president, it sunk him in the early stages of the campaign. Graham tried to have it both ways, stressing his opposition to the Iraq war to win the votes of liberals while reminding moderates he was a founder of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
It was a disaster. Despite having most Florida Democrats behind him, Graham couldnt raise any cash and was a nonfactor in the early going. Graham didnt even make it to Iowa and announced that he would not run for a fourth term in the Senate. A humiliating end for one of the most successful careers in Florida politics.
Gwen Graham could fall into the same trap that ensnared her fathers presidential hopes. The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) is already portraying Graham as a liberal and she might have to move to the left if she takes on Al Lawson in a Democratic primary.
At a press event on Tuesday, Gwen Graham continued trying to have it both ways. Slamming Southerland as an extremist, Graham refused to say if she would vote for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to be speaker. Its typical of this Graham. She has the backing of the national and state Democratic establishments but wont go on record to say if shell support her partys leader to lead Congress. Graham continues to sell herself as a moderate and to push voters to ignore the liberals behind her campaign.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.