Florida Democrat Fights Crucial Race

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  • Veteran Democratic Florida lawmaker Al Lawson locked arms with the legendary civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) to lead a throng of supporters to vote early.

    With a week left in a highly contentious battle against one-term U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Lawson knows that every vote counts if he is going to win a seat to represent the Second District, stretching 14 counties across the Florida Panhandle. The district includes the liberal leaning Tallahassee, where Lawson lives, and the more conservative-leaning and more rural area of Panama City where Southerland lives. Longtime Democrat James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and numerous local civic and business leaders joined Lawson in an effort to sure up his support.

    "People want someone they can trust, and they can't trust my opponent," said Lawson, a veteran insurance executive who served 18 years in the Florida House and 10 years in the Senate. "They can trust me. They know me."

    Currently, the Lawson-Southerland race is tight with Southerland having a slight lead in the polls and raising more money ($1.6 million vs. $506,000) than his challenger. This race has become a symbol of the national presidential election where Florida is a critical battleground state that President Barack Obama is hoping to win the highly coveted 29 Electoral College votes to help him secure re-election.

    Four years ago, U.S. Sen. John McCain won the district with 54 percent of the vote, but Obama won the predominately black Leon County.  As one of the key battleground states, Lawson is working hard to rally his base in hopes to help the president to victory in the state – and re-election.

    During this year's election, Southerland is counting on his experience in Washington to stress the themes echoed by the top man on his ticket, GOP Nominee Gov. Mitt Romney.  He voted 93% of the time along party lines, according to The Washington Post.

    "People today say that Congress is broken and that people don't work with each other," Lawson said in a recent phone interview.  "My opponent hasn't reached across the aisle. He's more concerned about bailing out Wall Street instead of bailing out Main Street."

    Southerland grew up in Panama City where he is president and owner of the Southerland Family Funeral Homes, which has been in the family for decades. He lives in Panama City with his wife Susan who he met in first grade. They have four daughters, Samantha, Stephanie, Ally and Abby. He touts his credibility as a small business owner who knows how to create jobs. While in Washington, he has served on the House Committees on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Transportation.

    Lawson also has deep roots in the district. He's a graduate of Florida A&M and Florida State University, where he is a distinguished alumnus, whose name appears on the "Albert Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium" for which he helped lead the fundraising.  He has developed a broad-based coalition of supporters, including the American Association for Justice ($5,250), the American Federation of State/County/Municipal Employees ($5,000), the Florida Benevolent Association ($5,000) and dozens of smaller contributions ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.  

    On the other hand, Southerland has attracted donations from mainly corporations, including Gulf Coast Dermatology ($14,201), Eastern Shipbuilding Group ($12,500), Every Republican is Crucial PAC ($10,000) and FedEx Corporation ($8,250).

    Lawson remains unnerved, focused on winning the election.

    "Money can't win it," said Lawson, who lives in Tallahassee with his childhood sweetheart, Delores. He's got two adult children and two grandchildren. "I'm going to win this seat by knocking on doors, visiting with people, listening and talking to people to address their concerns."
     

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