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Romano: Voters have a real choice for first time in 60 years

Swing voters, independent voters, disenfranchised voters all will matter as David Jolly and Alex Sink face off.

Swing voters, independent voters, disenfranchised voters all will matter as David Jolly and Alex Sink face off.

Technically, this isn't as impressive as the Ming thing.

It's a couple of centuries short of a dynasty and a few ZIP codes shy of an empire. On the other hand, the Ming Dynasty never had to deal with Social Security attack ads.

And so this is where the Republican Party finds itself today. After six decades of dominance in Pinellas County's congressional district, Republicans are staring at a rare challenge.

Today's special election featuring David Jolly and Alex Sink is expected to be close, and by itself that is a drastic change from what voters around here are accustomed to seeing.

It's safe to say the last time this race was competitive there wasn't as much emphasis on televised debates, and there weren't as many commercials. Mostly because half the homes in America had not yet bought a television.

Not since William Cramer narrowly beat incumbent Courtney Campbell in 1954 has this election been decided by less than 12 points.

Over the next 29 elections, Democrats were lucky to log even 40 percent of the vote. And that includes eight times when they didn't bother to put a candidate on the ballot.

In other words, this could be a defining moment.

The seat number has changed a half-dozen times as the population grew and the district borders shrank, but folks in Pinellas County have always had a pretty good idea of what they were getting when they sent a representative to Washington.

Cramer, a graduate of St. Petersburg High and St. Petersburg Junior College, held the seat for 16 years before an unsuccessful run for Senate against Lawton Chiles.

That opened the door for Bill Young, who won 22 consecutive elections by mostly laughable margins. In his 15 races against live opponents, Young got 68.03 percent of the vote. If you add in seven unopposed elections, it's probably closer to 80 percent.

The point is, Pinellas voters have never had much choice. Not that opponents were unqualified, but they were forever tilting at windmills.

Today brings us something different.

Swing voters, independent voters, disenfranchised voters. They will all matter. Supporters of Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby will have an impact, too.

So do yourself a favor, and vote as if it's 1954 again. Forget the televised ads. They were mostly garbage on both sides. Forget about the attack mailers and the self-serving groups behind them.

Trust me, Jolly is not going to steal Grandma's Social Security check. And Sink is not in favor of bankrupting America.

Instead, spend a little time reading about the candidates before heading to the polls. Find out why Jolly thinks we're better off repealing the Affordable Care Act. Find out why Sink thinks it's better to fix the existing law. Make sure you understand their stances on flood insurance, military spending, abortion rights, immigration laws and any other issue that is important to you.

We have predictably voted Republican for six decades in congressional races, but this is not a partisan market. It votes not by political party, but by individual candidate.

This race is not important because of what it might mean as a predictor for national mid-term elections later this year.

It's important because, for the first time in 60 years, Pinellas voters are making a choice instead of rubber-stamping a candidate.

Romano: Voters have a real choice for first time in 60 years 03/10/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2014 8:44pm]

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