I was very impressed by Gwen Graham’s recent appearance at the Broward Democratic Party’s monthly meeting. That’s why I was so distressed to see her making what I believe is a serious tactical mistake at the Florida Democratic Party conference held this weekend at The Diplomat in Hollywood.
At least on Friday night, she appeared to be running for “First Woman Governor of Florida” rather than just running for governor. I hope she rethinks that.
The Friday night event centered on a series of receptions sponsored by each of the Democratic candidates or statewide office, all held at the same time, which made it possible to hop from room to room for those (like me and my wife Beth Anne) who had friends in multiple campaigns. One of the first things we saw, when we walked into the hotel was a sign saying “Women for Graham,” with an arrow pointing the way down the hall to the event. Funny enough, the sign was being held by a man.
Upstairs, there were a series of additional directional signs pointing to her event, all labeled “Women for Graham.” Did that mean men weren’t invited? Surely, that wasn’t the intention. I thought maybe that just meant those were the signs they happened to have the most of, and they needed to deploy them to get the people to the right ballroom, since she hadn’t captured one of the locations closer to the entrance.
But we walked into the Graham reception just in time to see her up on stage surrounded by women supporters and pink balloons. I am sure she talked about other important issues, besides the gender of the candidates, but I didn’t stick around to listen to the rest.
For the record, I like women candidates when they are the best candidates. Last time around, I voted for Nan Rich as the more authentic Democratic candidate for governor and was disappointed that the powers that be were so determined to anoint former Republican Charlie Crist as the “can’t lose” candidate.
On the other hand, spending too much time running for “First Woman” in any office has not proven to be a winning strategy. Both Alex Sink and Hillary Clinton made that mistake from time to time. Hillary was at her best when she treated the subject with humor, as when her campaign created a plastic “woman card” to counter the trope about “playing the woman card.” Barack Obama famously avoided campaigning for “First Black President,” perhaps downplaying the importance of race to a fault — but winning in the end.
For Gwen Graham to hold “Women for Graham” events would be a smart way of engaging women who are particularly passionate about electing women candidates. I’m just disappointed that she made that the theme of a event for Democrats from across the state where she should have been making her case to everyone, even the men — which was what every other candidate was doing Friday night.
Gwen Graham remains one of the candidates with the best chance of winning the nomination. In reality, I don’t think she is a one-note candidate. As I mentioned, I was impressed by her appearance at the Broward Democratic Party where she addressed a wide range of issues and stayed to answer everyone’s questions, including some moderately hostile ones.
(Update: At the state party dinner Saturday night, the pink signs were gone, or at least not as prominent, and Graham’s message was broader, more like what she delivered at the Broward party meeting.)
I can’t help thinking she got talked into this “Women for Graham” focus by someone who underestimated her appeal to all Democrats. Whether it could be a strategy for winning the nomination, I don’t honestly know. But in the long run, I think it’s a trap. To actually win the governorship, she will have to run for governor, not woman governor, and win votes from all Floridians, even the men.