ST. PETERSBURG — While Republicans spent weeks battling one another in a three-way congressional primary that ended this week, Democrat Alex Sink was working the phones to line up support from dozens of Pinellas' elected officials.
Sink held a campaign event Thursday with three elected officials who are independents from Dunedin, Redington Beach and Seminole. One is registered with "no party affiliation;" the other two belong to the Independent Party of Florida, according to voting records.
"I've received over 50 endorsements from elected officials in the district already," she said. She added that "it makes a statement" that independent elected officials have evaluated the candidates and "believe that I am the best person to represent the best interests of the entire community when I get to Washington."
Sink, Republican nominee David Jolly, and Libertarian Lucas Overby are running in a March 11 special election to succeed longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October.
It's a high-profile campaign with a well-financed Democrat and a well-financed Republican, but independents form a large portion of the voters, too. In the 13th Congressional District, about 37.1 percent of registered voters are Republicans, 34.7 percent are registered Democrats, 24 percent have "no party affiliation," and the others are in smaller political parties.
Overby said he thought Sink's event Thursday was a reaction to his campaign.
Jolly believes "all political parties and all voters are important in this race, and we will get our message to all of Pinellas County," campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said.
For example, she added, Obamacare "is negatively impacting all of the district and all businesses. The same goes for flood insurance issues and raising the national debt and raising taxes."
The election has captured national attention as it could signal whether the public is more likely to lean toward Democrats or Republicans in congressional elections this fall.
Sink's event on Thursday underscored how aggressively she has been reaching out to elected officials in Pinellas, a county she moved to in order to run for Congress.
Some supporters are independents such as Redington Beach commissioner Fred Steiermann, who said he was impressed when Sink called him out of the blue. He said he appreciated her willingness to be accessible and her effort "to get in touch with a lot of people out on the forgotten beaches."
He appeared at Sink's event along with Seminole City Council member Jim Quinn and Dunedin commissioner Ron Barnette. Both said they are independents because they favor the issue or the individual over a strict party-line mind-set. Asked why he was a lifelong independent, Quinn noted the old joke from comedian Groucho Marx: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."
Many elected officials supporting Sink are Democrats who likely would back her without a personal invitation, including state Rep. Carl Zimmerman and Pinellas commissioners Ken Welch, Janet Long and Charlie Justice.
But Sink has not been shy about calling Republicans. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican, said he received a voicemail from Sink on Wednesday but at that time had not yet heard from Jolly. Gualtieri had been a strong backer of Kathleen Peters, who lost the primary to Jolly.
Gualtieri returned Sink's call late Wednesday and said she asked him about general law enforcement issues, but stopped short of asking for his support.
Sink said Thursday that she wants to talk to Republicans, Democrats, independents and others, but she understands it wouldn't be easy for a Republican official to endorse her so she normally doesn't ask. She just gives them her cellphone number, urges them to call and assures them she is "prepared to work collegially across party lines."
Sink said she didn't make much of the fact that a day after the GOP primary, second-place finisher Peters had not yet decided whether to endorse Jolly.
"I know what it's like not to be successful in a campaign," said Sink, who lost the 2010 race for governor.