Fla. House race about partisanship ... and lingerie

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Fla. House race about partisanship ... and lingerie
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 9: Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., leaves the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. House candidate Gwen Graham speaks with city officials on Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Gretna, Fla. On campaign stops Graham had something going for her: her last name. Voter after voter recounted fond memories of her father, Bob, who towered over Florida politics for more than a quarter-century as governor and U.S. senator. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph taken by AP Images for Environmental Defense Fund, U.S. Representative Steve Southerland, II with the 2nd District of Florida. speaks during the Committee on Natural Resources Hearing at the Holley Academic Center Florida State University- Panama City in Panama City, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Attending was House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings. (Michael Spooneybarger/ AP Images for Environmental Defense Fund)
In this April 30, 2014 photo, female House congressional candidates Amanda Renteria, D-Calif., left, Gwen Graham, D-Fla., center, daughter of former Florida senator and governor Bob Graham, and Roxanne "Rocky" Lara, D-N.M., pose for a photo at the Democratic Campaign Committee in Washington. Democrats, after robust recruiting of female candidates, are counting on women to knock out a few GOP candidates in the 2014 midterm elections. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
In this 2012 photograph provided by the candidates campaign,Steve Southerland poses for a photo. Steve Southerland is running for the Senate in Florida. (AP Photo)
U.S. House candidate Gwen Graham listens to Police Chief and public safety director Carlos De La Cruz as he explains the workings of his department on Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Gretna, Fla. On campaign stops Graham had something going for her: her last name. Voter after voter recounted fond memories of her father, Bob, who towered over Florida politics for more than a quarter-century as governor and U.S. senator. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
UNITED STATES - JULY 9: Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., speaks with Roll Call in his office on Capitol HIll on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 9: Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., speaks with Roll Call in his office on Capitol HIll on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: Republican Study Committee Anti-Poverty Initiative Chairman Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) speaks during a news conference on the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. The War on Poverty is the unofficial name for legislation first introduced by President Johnson during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964, which led the United States Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act, which established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Gwen Graham poses for a photo during a Riviera Beach, Fla. campaign rally June 1, 2004. Graham is the oldest daughter of Sen. Bob Graham and is making her move into politics. (AP Photo/J.Pat Carter)
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Republicans who flipped a Democratic seat in Congress during the 2010 tea party movement could now lose it in part because of a snarky comment about a lingerie party.

Yes, lingerie.

That's because of the way U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland defended an all-male fundraiser that encouraged donors to "tell the Misses (sic) not to wait up" as the men joined in a time-honored tradition of talking policy and politics without women in the room. After Democrat Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, took issue with the way the invitation was worded, Southerland asked a Tampa Bay Times reporter: "Has Gwen Graham ever been to a lingerie shower? Ask her. And how many men were there?"

The race for Florida's 2nd Congressional District is focused on the partisanship in Washington, and it's one of the few places where Democrats have a chance of beating a Republican incumbent. Graham, a 51-year-old lawyer who has worked for Tallahassee public schools, says that Congress is broken and that Southerland is part of the problem. Southerland says Graham would just be another vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Regardless of who wins, Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House.

The race in a district where the candidates have attended a worm gruntin' festival - an event that honors the art of attracting earthworms from the ground - and shaken opossums by the tail has at times been ugly. Graham has attacked Southerland for claiming in an ad that he supported the Violence Against Women Act when he actually voted against the final version that became law.

And Southerland has criticized Graham, saying she was hand-picked by Pelosi and is a former Washington lobbyist, a claim that isn't true.

Southerland, 49, of Panama City, also says Graham is running on her father's fame.

"She's royalty in politics. She was groomed for this. This is the Graham way. Bob Graham is everywhere she goes," Southerland said. "I can't imagine the pressure to win and how disappointing and humiliating it will be when they lose. I imagine she's walking the floor at night and not sleeping so well."

Graham said Southerland's claim is insulting.

"If I was my dad's son, he wouldn't be saying the same thing," she said. "I would never, ever ask people to support me and vote for me unless I knew that I had the skill sets to serve them well. What I have learned from my father is be informed, don't be partisan and work together with others to make the right decisions."

It's clear, though, that Southerland has had to defend himself on women's issues. After the all-male fundraiser and lingerie comment, he held a women for Southerland rally in Panama City Beach. For nearly an hour, six women, including Republican U.S. Reps. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Martha Roby of Alabama, took turns addressing a crowd of about 150 people and defending Southerland.

Southerland ended the event by singing "Stand By Me" to the crowd.

"It's not an issue with the women in our district. It's an issue for Gwen," Southerland said afterward. "They've got to have a diversion from the real issues that face the American people. I wouldn't want to have the record of the D.C. Democrats to run on, either."

Graham, though, is quick to point out both parties are to blame for the gridlock in Washington. And she says Southerland's campaign tactics reflect the partisan divide.

"This is what we need to change. The fact that either party feels that they need to dehumanize one another and be negative about one another is wrong, and people are so tired of it," she said. "People want to get back to a point where you feel OK about caring about one another regardless of what party you're in."

And yes, Graham also answered Southerland's questions. She has been to a lingerie shower. Once, when she was 21. And there were men there. The fact Southerland would even ask is a statement about his judgment, Graham said.

"The comparison is an offensive comparison because what his invitation indicated was that men get together and talk policy, and his response was that women get together and talk underwear," Graham said. "I'll let that speak for itself."


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