Democratic congressional candidate Gwen Graham toppled House Republican incumbent Steve Southerland in the heated race for the 2nd Congressional District, becoming the first woman to represent the district in Congress and providing a small bright spot to Democrats in what was otherwise a night stocked with Republican victories.
At Graham’s election night watch party in Doak Campbell Stadium, cheers broke out from the crowd as the results declared Graham the winner in a race that drew millions of dollars in spending from outside groups. The Center for Responsive Politics listed the race as the eighth most expensive congressional House race in the nation, with more than $14 million spent by both candidates and their affiliated groups.
Graham’s margin of victory was razor-thin: the new congresswoman won with 125,132 votes and received 50.4% of the vote while Southerland received 49.6% of the vote along with 122,939 votes. The difference was a mere 2,193 votes. The district had swung for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
In the midst of festive celebrations, Samantha Fazenbaker, a member of Florida State’s chapter of College Democrats, said she was elated with the results.
“I’m looking forward to having a representative that cares about women and about the middle class,” she said.
Appearing before her supporters, Graham committed herself to bringing the “North Florida Way” to an otherwise “dysfunctional Congress.”
“The only reason that I ran in this race was to provide the people of the 2nd Congressional District the kind of representation you deserve,” Graham said. “I’m going to work hard every day. I’m going to build and forge relationships. I’m going to make sure that Congress is not dysfunctional but is willing to work together.”
She stated that her first phone calls would be to Republican Reps. Jeff Miller and Ted Yoho of the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts, respectively. Graham hopes to “build a working relationship so we can do what’s right for the people of Florida.”
In a statement, the defeated Southerland said he “couldn’t be more proud of the campaign we’ve run,” promising a smooth transition that “our constituents deserve.”
Across the state and nationally, Democrats were not so lucky.
Gov. Rick Scott narrowly defeated Charlie Crist, 48.2% to 47.0%, in another close governor’s race that had cable pundits and commentators noting the “political schizophrenia” of the Sunshine State. Neither candidate was very popular with voters, and many saw the election as a choice between choosing the least damaging option for the future of Florida.
The Florida governor’s race was one of the most expensive gubernatorial races in the nation, highlighted by the huge outpour of political advertisements by outside groups, most of which were negative. Both sides in the race spent nearly $150 million, with Rick Scott splurging $13 million of his personal fortune, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Democrats have not won a governor’s race in Florida since 1994.
At his campaign headquarters in Bonita Springs, the reelected Republican governor called for unity and heralded the start of a new mission.
“Forget about all the partisanship. Florida is on a mission. And that mission is to keep growing and become the very best place in the world to get a job, raise a family, and live the American Dream.”
Nationally, Democrats were trounced in the midterm elections, as resurgent Republicans were triumphant in key Senate races. They rode a wave of voter anger and popular discontent with President Obama that led to the GOP recapturing the Senate, their first time holding the Senate majority since 2006.
The magnitude of the Republican victories was cemented with their Senate wins in Iowa and Colorado – two key states that helped propel Obama to the presidency in 2008. Republicans now hold 52 seats to Democrats’ 44, with Virginia and Alaska still too close to call at the time of this writing, according to The Washington Post. Louisiana is headed to a runoff election, as no candidate captured a majority of the vote.
Republicans also strengthened their hold in the 435-seat House, giving them their largest House majority since World War II, and staved off Democratic challengers in closely watched governors’ races in Wisconsin and Georgia. Republican candidates also retook governors’ mansions in Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts – all reliably Democratic states.
Nearly $4 billion was spent in the 2014 midterm elections by a combination of candidates, parties, and outside groups, making it the most expensive midterm election season ever, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, President Obama acknowledged the clear message from voters, saying, “I hear you.”
“What stands out to me is that the American people . . . expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do, expect us to focus on their ambitions and not ours. They want us to get the job done. All of us in both parties have a responsibility to address that sentiment.”
by JOSEPH ZEBALLOS / staff writer