Steve Southerland, the Republican candidate in Florida’s second congressional district, had backing from the National Republican Congressional Committee’s big guns Friday night when speaking to supporters in the hometown of Democratic incumbent Allen Boyd.
“I’m not used to coming into somebody else’s district,” NRCC Deputy Chairman Greg Walden told the audience. “I’m not sure I’ve done that more than a couple of times in the years that I’ve been in Congress.”
Regardless, the Oregon representative, who stopped by Monticello, Fla. at the end of a four-state tour in support of GOP candidates, made the intent of his visit crystal clear.
“I know I speak for Chairman Pete Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, when I tell you from the NRCC’s standpoint, we are all in — all in to win this seat back,” Walden said.
The district is considered one of the likeliest GOP pickups this fall.
Boyd was challenged from the Left and narrowly won a 51-49 victory in the Aug. 24 primary, despite outspending his opponent 10 to one — a result seen by many as a referendum on his popularity. Now, in a general election challenge from the Right, Boyd’s votes for the stimulus, cap-and-trade and health care reform are cited as key vulnerabilities in a district rated R+6 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index.
“With all due respect to my friend and colleague who represents this district today, you can’t vote for all this stuff and claim you’re a blue dog,” Walden said.
Southerland, a Panama City funeral home owner, jumped into the race from the private sector.
“We realized that the future for our daughters was in question,” Southerland said. “The very basic tenets of freedom and liberty were being unraveled, and that hard work and honest dealings, which has always been a formula for success all the way back to the colonies, that was being undermined.”
The NRCC does not release district-by-district numbers so there’s no way to tell specifically how much its backing represents to Southerland, but FL-2 is one of 41 districts slated for independent expenditures under the committee’s initial $22 million ad buy. Since Tallahassee and Panama City are relatively inexpensive media markets, the presence could be significant.
In addition, Walden presented Southerland with $1,000 from his leadership PAC.
The NRCC’s backing will help buttress Southerland’s campaign, which lags Boyd in fundraising. As of the last FEC reporting period, Southerland held $84,000, compared to Boyd’s $762,000.
But dollars by themselves don’t win elections, as Walden made clear when addressing supporters. The NRCC, too, has a cash disadvantage, with its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, holding 1.6 times as much money.
“When you’re in the majority, you have a lot more members raising money,” Walden said in an interview after the event. “You know, you think about it, we’re down, what, 50 members from the last couple of cycles. Each one of us raises $100,000 or $200,000. That’s a lot of money. And they’ve got more members than we do.”
But fundraising numbers, Walden said, don’t tell the whole story.
“Going into the 2006 election when people said ‘you know, you Republicans kind of lost your way,’ we had $40 million more to spend than Democrats, and you know what, we got our lunch handed to us,” Walden said. “Because when that hurricane is hitting, when that tidal wave is coming up on the shore, you may have more money, but you’re not going to change the minds of the American voters once they’re made up.”
It’s just such a wave that Southerland said propelled him toward the nomination.
“We started asking a very simple question — my family, my close friends — and this was the question: have we had enough?” Southerland said. “And I will tell you, like a symphony, all in tune, that answer started coming back to us.”
He beat out several other Republican contenders for the opportunity to face Boyd, and hopes to join the House this January. But it’s the voters — and ultimately, Southerland said, a higher power — who will decide whether to put him there.
“On the night of that election night, I believe that my fate and that of this campaign rests in the hands of the God who made me,” Southerland said. “And I’m OK with that. Actually, I’m great with that — that he controls my destiny, he’s the one that made me, he’s the one that gave me my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not a federal government.”