July 27, 2015 — The Florida Supreme Court’s order of a partial re-draw of eight congressional districts has turned the Sunshine State’s politics upside down. With one House member already jumping to the Senate race because he will get an unfavorable draw in his Pinellas County district, another representative may be looking to soon follow suit.
Last week, it was reported that freshman Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) is confirming that she, too, is considering entering the open Senate campaign.
In its decision, the state Supreme Court took the highly unusual action of actually stating how the 5th District — that of Jacksonville Rep. Corinne Brown (D) — should be drawn. Currently, the controversial district encompasses a portion of Duval County (Jacksonville), travels southwest to annex part of Gainesville, and then meanders further south to capture African-American precincts in the city of Sanford before moving into Orlando. The configuration has withstood several challenges under the Voting Rights Act over the past two decades, which is why it remains, but the state high court ruled two weeks ago that it did not meet the proper redistricting criteria under the 2010 voter-passed initiative.
With the court saying FL-5 should begin in Jacksonville and move due west to include at least part of Tallahassee city, inferring that the dictated Voting Rights percentages are less relevant than state law, Rep. Graham’s 2nd District will be radically affected. Presumably, moving much of Graham’s Tallahassee and Leon County base to the 5th District will subsequently swing the current FL-2 back to the GOP.
Even with Tallahassee in the 2nd District, the last two Republican presidential nominees both captured 52 percent of the district vote. Swapping a sizable number of Democrats for Republicans will almost assuredly make the 2nd unwinnable for Graham or any other Democratic candidate. Should this happen, moving to the Senate race might prove to be her better option, as Rep. David Jolly (R-Pinellas County) believes it to be for himself.
Gwen Graham would be a strong Senate candidate and can win under the right circumstances. She is the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham (D), and would already enjoy statewide name identification within the Democratic primary voting universe. She proved herself a very able candidate in the 2014 congressional race, becoming only one of two Democratic challengers to win in what proved to be a Republican landslide year across the country. She is in strong shape for re-election if the district remains constant, but it appears such won’t be the case.
Graham is also a strong fundraiser who should excel in a statewide race. She banked almost $3.7 million for her 2014 House race, and has already raised well over $1 million for the 2016 campaign. All of her reported $940,000-plus cash-on-hand would be transferable to a Senate race.
Ironically, a Graham entry in the Senate race would also strengthen another Democratic candidate, fellow Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando). The congresswoman has established herself as more of a moderate Democrat, as evidenced by her first House action when she voted for Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper (D) for Speaker instead of Nancy Pelosi. Therefore, her appeal will likely take away from party favorite Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter), who has also voted more moderately.
The Democratic base left, disproportionately represented in a primary election, would then most closely identify with Grayson. Such a three-way contest would dramatically increase Grayson’s odds of becoming the nominee. Arguably, Graham could be the party’s strongest general election candidate, however.
Gwen Graham running statewide would make an already interesting Senate primary even more so. The reverberations of the latest redistricting ruling continue to be felt throughout Florida, and the new lines haven’t even been drawn.