SOPCHOPPY, Fla. — It’s not easy being a Democrat at the Worm Gruntin’ Festival.
The event, named for a popular method of coaxing worms above ground, takes place in Florida’s conservative Panhandle amid gator kabobs, fishhook earrings, and a tent with venomous snakes.
But on a campaign stop, House candidate Gwen 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 US senator.
Nearby, in south Georgia, Democratic Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn finds the same experience among voters who still revere her father, Sam, almost 18 years after he retired after a lengthy career in the Senate.
Graham and Nunn are going beyond the typical advantages of name ID and fund-raising connections. They explicitly hold up their fathers as examples of what kind of elected officials they would be: old-style moderate Southerners, the kind rendered largely extinct on Capitol Hill.
‘‘I often hear from people that they miss the days in which they felt like they had someone who was a statesman and reached across the aisle,’’ Michelle Nunn said at a campaign stop in Shellman, Ga. ‘‘I’m both lucky to have that connection and to have my own experiences that demonstrate my capacity to lead in that way.’’
Graham, who is following her father’s campaign tradition of spending days working alongside constituents, said, ‘‘I want to put aside the bickering. It should be public service, not politics.’’
The approach offers Democrats a ray of hope in a midterm congressional election that could continue the party’s slide in the South, where President Obama and national figures such as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California are broadly unpopular.
Republicans aim to unseat Democratic senators in Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina on their way to reclaiming a Senate majority. Voter defections and racial polarization are already pronounced in the House, where Representative John Barrow of Georgia is the sole white Democrat from the Deep South states that stretch from South Carolina to Louisiana.
Graham, 51, wants to oust Representative Steve Southerland, who won Florida’s Second District in Republicans’ 2010 midterm House sweep.
Nunn, 47, is trying to succeed retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican.
A Nunn victory would make it difficult for Republicans to gain the six seats they need for a Senate majority.
Many Republicans acknowledge that Graham and Nunn are strong first-time candidates, given Democrats’ struggles in the South.
But GOP loyalists say it will be a struggle for the women to win over a midterm electorate expected to be older, whiter, and more conservative than in presidential years.