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After 38 years, Young faces challenge

ST. PETERSBURG — In the nearly 38 years Rep. C.W. Bill Young has been in Congress, a Democrat has never come close to beating him.

Much of the time they didn't even field a candidate.

This year, three Democrats are facing the long odds of beating Young in District 10, which includes most of Pinellas County.

They have drastically different political styles, but they form a chorus in arguing that Young has been in office too long and will resist change when a new president takes office. The three are asking voters to oust the career politician and choose a citizen-legislator instead. They are:

• Samm Simpson, a freelance broadcaster and grandmother, who is passionate about issues of public morality like the war in Iraq. She ran against Young in 2006 and earned 34 percent of the vote.

• Max Linn, a multimillionaire financial planner famous for political stunts in past campaigns, including a run with the Reform Party for governor in 2006. He fought for years to impose and protect term limits on legislators and considers self-financing his campaign a way to show his integrity.

• Bob Hackworth, the mayor of Dunedin, is the only one of the three who has held public office. Having won two elections to the City Commission and 87 percent of the vote to become mayor, he argues that experience gives him the best odds of beating Young and bringing change to Washington.

Political observers say it's a tough race to win. Young has bipartisan appeal for bringing millions of federal dollars to the area. His voting record is conservative, but he hasn't been branded as a Republican insider. And his record serving veterans appeals to both sides.

The district, though, is considered a potential pickup seat for Democrats once Young's gone. After some heavily Democratic areas were cut out in 2002, District 10 has more registered Republicans than Democrats. But it's still close — 39.4 percent of registered voters in the district are Republican; 36.4 percent, Democratic; and 19.3 percent, independent. It voted for Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004, both by slim margins.

Darryl Paulson, a professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, said this year's race is more about setting Democrats up to run for the seat when Young decides to retire. "Because of his length of tenure and overwhelming name recognition, it would be a miracle for any Democrat to defeat him this time around," Paulson said.

Worsening the odds are flaws in the Democratic field, Paulson said. Simpson, who questions the government's explanation of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, could be hurt by her supporters on the political fringes. Paulson called Linn a "political buffoon" who runs for election out of opportunism. Hackworth lacks name recognition, he said.

Young's opponents hope to turn his longevity against him. Linn likes to compare Young's tenure in politics to Fidel Castro's nearly 50-year reign in Cuba. But Young said it shouldn't be considered a problem.

"I think that's for the people in the district to decide," Young said, "and they've always decided that they like the work I was doing for them."

Speculation on Young's retirement is a sport among Pinellas County politicos. Many thought he would bow out this year, only to see him run again for a 20th term. He won't rule out a 21st, either.

Until then, it's uphill for Democrats.

To see what they're facing, take the story of Ken Welch, a Democratic county commissioner who says he has a good working relationship with Young and couldn't say anything bad about him.

When Welch first voted in Pinellas County as a young man, he asked his father which congressional candidate he should vote for. A steadfast Democrat, his father said Bill Young.

"I said, 'Really? He's a Republican,' " Welch recalled.

His dad's response?

"No, he's a good man, and he's a good representative."

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

After 38 years, Young faces challenge 05/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 4:20pm]
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