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Gwen Graham's Rising Star on Display in Selma

March 8, 2015 - 7:00pm

Democrats converged on Selma this weekend to honor the 50th anniversary of a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

Barack Obama and John Lewis rightfully get most of the attention as the nation remembered the march on Selma and Bloody Sunday. But there was another Democrat who scored a few political points at the anniversary: Gwen Graham, increasingly becoming a rare rising star for the party in Florida.

Graham was at the event in Selma and her team released a picture of her hugging Lewis. Its a moving photo and one that will do well for Graham back home.

When Democrats are divided on racial lines in Grahams district, they lose. That was pretty evident in 2010 and 2012. Steve Southerland was able to beat Allen Boyd in 2010 thanks in part to the Democrat having to hold off Al Lawson in an ugly primary. Southerland won in 2012 over Lawson after he won a nasty primary. Lawson threatened to challenge Graham and run a third time but he stayed out, leading to her win over Southerland last year.

The NRCC keeps trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Graham. Last week, the NRCC hit Graham for being silent about Hillary Clinton using private emails when at the State Department in just the latest round of attacks against the Florida Democrat.

But the NRCC will find Graham no easy target come next year. Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans in this North Florida district and they do well in presidential elections here, even though it is always competitive. Graham was one of only a few Democrats who beat Republican congressional incumbents last year in a very good election for the GOP.

So far, Graham has been able to claim the political middle, even voting against Nancy Pelosi to lead the Democratic caucus. Republicans can continue to try to paint Graham as a liberal but it didnt work well in 2014 and there are not many GOP candidates on the bench in the district, especially as some of the more promising ones are more concerned with Tallahassee than Washington. Grahams role at Selma will help her nail down black voters -- a major force in the district -- while still not alienating right-of-center rural Democrats who often vote Republican.

Its telling that while she just won office for the first time in November, theres already talk about Graham aiming for the Senate where her father Bob Graham served three terms. Granted, the Democrats dont have many appealing moderate candidates besides Graham and Patrick Murphy, but it is no surprise that the first-year congresswoman is already getting some attention. Graham has the makings of a star for Florida Democrats and that was on display this past weekend in Selma.

Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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