Monday, October 21, 2013

Banner Congressional Race In FL-13? Will We See Alex Sink vs Bill Young II?


C.W. Bill Young's friends and family have been speculating for years about when he would retire from Congress. Very ill, finally on October 9 he announced he would... in 2015-- and then died about a week or so later. Everyone is busy remembering the good times and trying to not bring up anything about the corruption that defined his life. And political types are all paying homage to fake memories and only whispering about the race for the very swingy 13th congressional district that will turn into an unseemly brawl after the funeral later this week.

The Florida state legislature, sensing Young's time on earth was nigh, redistricted to make it a little less impossible for a Republican to win. It went from a D+1 to an R+1 district, but Republicans have trouble holding onto R+1 districts these days as well, since independents have been tending to break for Democrats as the national GOP drifted further and further away from the mainstream. In 2008, what is now FL-13 gave Obama 177,758 votes (51%) and McCain 164,644 votes (48%). Obama won again last year 171,102 (50%) to 166,087 (49%) against Romney.

With Young out of the way, this district should be a "gimme" for the Democrats. Even before he announced he was retiring, a new PPP poll showed Pinellas County would be happy to replace him with a Democrat. Although his death has rescucitated his popularity, a week before he died his job approval was down to 33% and voters said they were ready-- by a 48-43% margin-- to vote for an unnamed Democrat against him. Worse still, was when voters were informed that Young had voted to shut down the government, his Democratic opponent's chances to be elected sky-rocketed into a 51-42% outcome.

The last time the district went for a Republican presidential nominee, almost half the people who live there hadn't been born yet. So… will the DCCC figure out a way to ruin the Democrats' sure thing? No one thinks so and, in fact, all the Republican Party's top contenders have said "thanks, but no thanks." State Senator Jeff Brandes, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and state Senator Jack Latvala have all bowed out. Latvala mused on Facebook, "Who wants to be in a job that is rated less favorably than a cockroach?" GOP die-hards are still hoping they can find a top tier candidate to face off against former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, who looks like a sure bet for the Democratic nomination.

When Sink ran for governor against Rick Scott in 2010, he narrowly edged her statewide 2,589,915 (49%) to 2,522,857 (48%). It wasn't that close in Pinellas County, however. Sink beat him 153,747 (51%) to 136,577 (45%). Adam Smith, the dean of Florida pundits and the Tampa Bay Times' political editor is working hard to make the race as exciting and pivotal as possible. Over the weekend, he called it the bellwether congressional race between now and the midterms.
A handful of congressional districts nationwide are as politically competitive as Young's. Seeing such a seat open up with no incumbent favored to win is rare, which is why so many local politicians and would-be politicians started gearing up as soon as Young announced his retirement less than two weeks ago.

But the dynamic is completely changed. Mounting a campaign over 12 months is vastly different from running in a multimillion-dollar special election just a few months away.

Prospective candidates and party officials on Saturday did not want to publicly discuss political machinations so soon after Young's death. But the new time frame is sure to prompt national party officials to heavily pressure candidates with the best-known names and money-raising potential to jump in-- and the underdogs to clear out of the way in the name of delivering the seat to their respective parties.

That means former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink and former Republican St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker look like the overwhelming favorites.

"Special elections in a compressed time frame favor known quantities: Neither side has much of an opportunity to build an organization or an image," said Republican consultant Rick Wilson of Tallahassee. "Candidates who step in it during a special have a hard time washing it off their shoes for Election Day."

Baker has voiced no interest in running-- while also doing nothing to discourage speculation. He has long said he would not mount another major campaign until his children are out of high school (one is a senior, the other in 11th grade), but he's sure to face some arm-twisting in the coming days.

Sink has described herself as "very interested" and reaffirmed that interest Saturday, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has telegraphed its enthusiasm for her.

"A candidate-- like Alex Sink-- who has a strong record of solving problems would be extremely competitive in this district," the DCCC said as soon as Sink's name emerged.

Another significant, new consideration for any prospective candidates: Not only will they face a special election probably within a few months, but they also will face a re-election campaign a few months after that, including a potential, if not likely, primary challenge. A credible, conservative Republican alternative to Baker, for instance, may not be able to build a strong campaign in 120 days or so but in 10 months could be plausible.
It's widely assumed that if the GOP can't persuade a top tier candidate to run against Sink, they'll let Young's son, Bill Young II, do it in the hopes that people are confused or nostalgic. Apparently Young's wife, Beverly would also like the seat. If she and the son were in a primary battle, it would be even better than a bellwether race.

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