By Jim Bleyer
Florida gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham, her operatives, and allies view Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum as her primary threat for the Democratic nomination and are attempting to marginalize him through a nasty whisper campaign.
Sources in Tallahassee and Tampa Bay have told us her public stance that she regards former Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine as her main rival is a charade. Graham’s media ally, the Tampa Bay Times reported the fiction. Former senator and governor Bob Graham, Gwen’s father, sits on the board of the Poynter Foundation. The Poynter Institute is the majority stockholder in the Tampa Bay Times.
Meanwhile Graham’s minions are not so subtly telling Democratic voters that Gillum is one of the targets in the FBI investigation of City of Tallahassee contracts. That rumor, fueled by Graham’s operatives in Democratic circles has filtered into social media. Gillum’s lack of involvement has been chronicled but the Graham campaign, along with her Times ally perpetuate an outdated, discredited story.
The Tallahassee Democrat attached Gillum’s name to the probe at its outset as a matter of speculation but recent developments have quashed those theories. Recent Democrat stories have focused on the facts.
Graham has the thinnest resume of the three candidates: one term as a Congresswoman representing a battleground Big Bend district. Her definition of “reaching across the aisle” meant voting often with the Republicans such as favoring the Keystone XL Pipeline. She declined to defend the seat after a redistricting, opting to run instead for governor
What does it say when she refuses to run as an incumbent in a battleground Congressional district but prefers to seek the governorship in a battleground state? It says this: Gwen Graham believes her legacy name will propel her into office despite a dismal voting record in Congress and, unlike Mayor Gillum, timidity in taking anything approaching progressive stances on the stump.
A poll shows Graham ahead of Levine, 20-17 percent with Gillum trailing at 10 percent. Behind the numbers: 49 percent of Democratic voters are undecided (the fourth candidate, Chris King, has four percent); Levine has fired his best shot with $2 million in media buys, and voters don’t like Graham the more they learn about her. She has an 8-point name recognition lead over Levine but only a three-point lead.
What can happen from here? Gillum’s name recognition will increase as he travels the state and articulates the progressive values of the Democratic party. With the FBI investigation behind him, he can energize Millennials, Latinos, African Americans, progressives of all backgrounds, and mainstream Democrats who are yearning for a charismatic candidate with ideas that don’t clone Republican policies and platform.
It happened at a December community meeting in Tampa. Gillum’s remarks were met with enthusiastic applause; the energy didn’t end with the formal meeting as young adults surrounded him outside the meeting room for conversation and photo ops. The positive reaction to Gillum’s appearance by Millennials is key to Democratic aspirations statewide.
Millennials and Gen Xers made up 50 percent of the voters in 2016, but their turnout was only 59 percent compared to 75 percent for all voters statewide.
Levine, who has spoken highly of Donald Trump and the Republicans, considered running as an Independent or Republican. He can spend $2 million a month from now until the primary but he has more downside than upside as voters learn he has a paucity of Democratic bona fides. There is a law of diminishing returns in politics as well as economics.