By Jim Bleyer
Florida Democrats, not Republicans, will be the ones tested in 2018.
When it comes to lessons learned, the GOP is the quicker study. The Democrats are strong in urban pockets and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has been their only consistent statewide winner in more than two decades.
And Nelson will struggle, presumably against Gov. Rick Scott, in his 2018 bid for a fourth term. He needs someone at the top of the ticket to excite the base and attract a burgeoning but dormant demographic.
So the acid test for Democrats will be the governor’s race with declared candidates Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Philip Levine. Graham, the legacy candidate representing the party establishment, leads the polls and in fundraising. Levine, the wealthy mayor of Miami Beach with a prickly disposition cannot even connect to supporters of Trump whom he has praised. King talks like a progressive but with no record of public service and low name recognition, doesn’t stand a chance.
That leaves Gillum, the unabashed progressive mayor of Tallahassee. On the campaign trail, he has excited Millennials, Latinos, people of color, and true progressives. Alabama’s special election should have taught Florida Democrats who their best bet is to end 20 years of a Republican in the governor’s mansion.
I’m registered as No Party Affiliation and I can’t discern the difference between Adam Putnam, Agriculture Commissioner and the prohibitive Republican favorite, and Gwen Graham. The lives of 98 percent of Floridians won’t change no matter which one becomes governor. Most of the same special interests will benefit.
When she became a Congresswoman representing the Big Bend, Graham announced she would “reach across the aisle.” She might as well have been sitting across the aisle. According to USA Today, Graham was one of:
—12 Democrats to vote for a bill increasing from 30 to 40 the number of hours an employee must work per week to qualify for mandatory health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
—28 Democrats to vote for a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline.
—Eight Democrats to vote for a bill making it tougher for federal agencies to impose new rules without detailed justification.
—29 Democrats to vote for a bill relaxing some Dodd-Frank banking regulations.
—31 Democrats to vote for an intelligence authorization bill to ban the government from transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S.
—19 Democrats to vote for a bill granting states authority to regulate coal ash disposal. The measure would undo a federal EPA rule.
—25 Democrats to vote against a bill approving the nuclear deal with Iran.
That’s not going to excite the demographic Democrats need to win, NPAs like me, or even the traditional Democrat. Needless to say, environmentalists are livid at Graham’s kowtowing to fossil fuel interests. Her votes favoring banks and against health care for her constituents are unfriendly to 90 percent of voters regardless of political affiliation.
Graham surrogates advocate the erroneous perception that Graham is their party’s best opportunity to recapture the Florida governorship. There’s a more compelling argument that her nomination would be business—losing—as usual.
Graham allies in the press and social media are perpetuating this utter “best bet” balderdash. She’s scared stiff of Gillum and being exposed as an ideological fraud.
Former Governor and Senator Bob Graham sits on the Board of the Poynter Foundation. The Poynter Institute is the parent of the Tampa Bay Times. The paper, discredited in 2017 because of slanted, unethical coverage in several political races, has maliciously attempted to torpedo Gillum’s candidacy.
An example: a political reporter labeled Gillum’s candidacy “toast” because of an FBI imvestigation of contracts in Tallahassee. Outright falsehood. It is widely known by everyone but the Times’ dwindling readsership, that Gillum is not a target of the probe.
The Graham campaign has resorted to placing fluff pieces in pay-for-play blogs that few voters read and those that do can easily spot an advertorial.
Andrew Gillum has successfully passed the resilience hurdle, remaining within striking distance of Graham despite the evil, misleading rhetoric emanating from her campaign and the Times.
If all that isn’t enough to be repelled by a Graham primary win, she lacks the political acumen of her father. She voted against Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker twice. Say what you want about Pelosi but Graham screwed herself by essentially losing support from the national party for a tough re-election bid.
What does that say about Graham, an incumbent who refused to run for re-election in a battleground district after one term of service?
It tells me she cannot possibly win statewide.