TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A fresh face with a familiar name could be one answer for Florida Democrats starved for new candidates to help the party regain political clout.
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham's (search) oldest daughter, Gwen, has taken a key role with the state Democratic Party in this presidential election year, and is the state party's national campaign liaison with John Kerry's (search) presidential campaign.
While Gwen Graham is helping others during this year's election cycle, she has her own political ambitions down the road — possibly a congressional run in 2006.
She wants to carve out her own political identity. "It's important to me that people understand that I never assume that I can be or do anything just because I'm Bob Graham's daughter."
Name recognition, however, is an elixir in politics. And a big help in Florida.
Connie Mack and Gov. Jeb Bush, for instance, were both able to capitalize on their pedigree.
Mack, grandson of the famous baseball owner and manager of the same name, served two terms in the U.S. Senate. His son, Connie Mack IV, is a state representative running for Congress from southwest Florida.
Gov. Bush mushroomed to prominence in part with the help of a vast fund-raising organization created for his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Reagan.
Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor, said the Graham name "is as good a name as you can get in Florida politics."
Graham, 41, had put aside her political ambitions for the past decade in favor of her responsibilities as a mother of a daughter and two sons, who range in ages from 8 to 13.
She has immersed herself in presidential politics since her father's aborted campaign for the nation's top job last year. After he dropped from the race, she made a short run with Howard Dean's presidential campaign before moving to her present job with the Kerry campaign.
Like her dad, who is retiring from the Senate, Graham is pro-choice and shares his passions for education and protecting the Everglades. She opposes any exploratory drilling for oil reserves off Florida's coastline.
"I'm very much my father's daughter," she said. "He will always be my No. 1 political adviser. We don't differ much."
Graham also believes the United States entered Iraq under false pretenses and that President Bush should have tried more diplomacy.
"I think the president rushed to war and we're paying for it now in the loss of life and financial commitment," she said. "But now that we're there we need to stay there and finish the job. We have no other choice."
That passion for politics plays well among party stalwarts.
Graham is "a true-blue Democrat" who "believes in our issues heart-and-soul," state Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox said. "Gwen Graham is going to make a positive contribution to politics in Florida for a long time."
Her father said he's pleased she has political ambitions and values the family name, but added that she's her own person.
"I can tell you she's not just depending on her pedigree," the senator said. "She's a young woman with a great deal of ability, self-assurance, a willingness to work hard and very motivated by a desire to be a public servant."
Gwen Graham holds a law degree from American University in Washington and worked three years for a Houston-based law firm in Washington specializing in energy and environmental law before beginning her family.
She realized that it was time to make some decisions about her life when she reached her 40th birthday on Jan. 31, 2003 — the same day her father had heart surgery. Voters should expect to see a Graham on the Democratic side of the ballot in the coming years.
"I have the drive and commitment to do it," she said. "I have an incredible legacy to carry on."