ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Two-term Republican Rep. Steve Southerland got the boot from Florida voters on Tuesday night, ending a controversial campaign in which he was painted by his opponent, Democrat Gwen Graham, as anti-woman.
Southerland received 49.2% of the vote in Florida’s 2nd Congressional district compared to Graham’s 50.8% with 97.8% of precincts reporting, according to NBC News.
The race, which was considered a tossup, drew millions of dollars in outside spending for both Graham, daughter of popular former governor and Democratic senator Bob Graham, and Southerland, who was considered one of his party’s most vulnerable lawmakers in the House.
Southerland created waves after he hosted an all-male fundraiser in March, sending an invitation that read: “tell the misses not to wait up because the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many." He double-downed in September, arguing his event was no different than a “lingerie party,” and suggested that Graham would know what an event like that could be like.
“Listen: Has Gwen Graham ever been to a lingerie shower? Ask her. And how many men were there?,” Southerland said. Democrats argued that he was resurrecting the so-called War on Women, while Southerland maintained his remarks were being misconstrued for political gain.
Southerland also came under fire for voting against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and spearheading legislation to cut billions of dollars from the food stamps program.
Southerland, meanwhile, tried to hammer home the message on the campaign trail that Graham is too liberal for the district which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by 6 points in 2012. He also argued that a vote for her was essentially a vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.
"I am not Nancy Pelosi," Graham said at a final debate last month. "Neither am I Barack Obama or Harry Reid. I am Gwen Graham.” The Democrat added that she would not support Pelosi for House speaker if she was elected. "We need new leadership," she said.