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Six things to know about Pinellas congressional race

With the Republican primary over, the real race to succeed the late Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young is on.

Republican David Jolly is facing Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the March 11 special election. Here's a look at a few issues in the big money race, which will flood airwaves and mailboxes in the next two months:

Washington

Jolly and Sink seem determined to Washingtonize each other.

It was striking that after Jolly won the Republican primary last Tuesday, he told supporters:

"Pinellas County has picked a Republican candidate in this race. The Washington establishment has picked a Democrat. My opponent wants to win this race for Washington, D.C. I want to win this race for Pinellas County."

True, Pinellas Republican voters picked their candidate by voting in a primary, and Democratic voters didn't — not after Democratic candidate Jessica Ehrlich vanished and cleared the field for Sink.

But Jolly, 41, built a career in Washington, first as a longtime aide to Rep. Young, and then as a lawyer, consultant and lobbyist. Florida Democratic Party news releases make it sound like "Washington Lobbyist" is Jolly's first name.

Jolly can be expected to hammer Sink for a different geographic issue. Sink, 65, a former Florida chief financial officer who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, moved from Hillsborough to a rented condo in Pinellas to run for Congress. Moving was not a legal requirement but practically speaking, a political one.

Environment

This won't be the most hotly contested issue in this race, but it might be an interesting point of contrast.

Consider the issue of rising sea levels, a byproduct of climate change. Sink early on said it was worth discussing in the campaign. Jolly said in a debate earlier this month that he doesn't "see a role for the federal government" on the issue.

Both candidates oppose oil drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast, but Jolly supports increased drilling elsewhere. He also was listed as a lobbyist on an oil drilling bill. But he — and the company that hired him — said he didn't actually lobby on the matter, but was required to list it because the subject came up during a meeting he attended while lobbying on something else.

Social Security

This is Florida, this is Pinellas County and this is the 13th Congressional District, where 27 percent of voters are 66 or older. Meanwhile, the program's long-term financial health is in question.

So take it for granted both will pledge to protect Social Security, but then what? It's an issue the candidates must elaborate on during the campaign. Jolly already has said current workers must continue to receive the Social Security they have been promised. The government must recognize its long-term obligations and come up with a plan for paying them, like any debt, he said.

The negative

Sink last week aired a light-hearted commercial with friendly banter between her and her father. Jolly ran his own introductory commercial, which only took one swipe at Sink.

But with only seven weeks until the March 11 general election, you can count on watching television ads very soon claiming evil deeds by (fill in the blank.)

Sink had $1 million cash on hand right after Christmas, and now that the Republican primary is over, money will gush into Jolly's campaign accounts, too. In case that's not enough, outside groups not controlled by the candidates are preparing their own blitz.

Bipartisanship

The winner in this race will follow Young, a congressman with such a bipartisan spirit that during his funeral in October, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House thanked Pinellas voters for repeatedly sending the Republican back to Congress.

And only a few months ago, Congress was so mired in infighting that the government shut down.

Jolly and Sink both pledge to work with people from all political parties. They probably can't prove this before getting elected, but it might be interesting to see if any prominent Democrats come out for Jolly or any prominent Republicans come out for Sink.

The outsider

Lucas Overby, 27, a commercial diver who is a Libertarian, also is running. His website calls him the "quintessential political outsider."

When talking to voters, he said they don't seem as curious about the details of the Libertarian Party platform as they are about whether he will stick to his promises once in office. That suits him fine, because he said he won't owe anything to huge corporate contributors or an entrenched big-party leadership.

He stressed the overall need to cut federal spending, to reform defense contracting to make it more efficient, to cut corporate welfare and to review and reform welfare and entitlement programs. He supports same-sex marriage, gun owners' rights, medical marijuana and "the controlled withdrawal from the war on drugs."

An independent write-in candidate, Michael Levinson, 72, also is running.

.fast facts

District 13

Voters in Congressional District 13 go to the polls March 11 for the general election. The district extends from south Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of southern and downtown St. Petersburg cut out.

Six things to know about Pinellas congressional race 01/19/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 19, 2014 8:08pm]
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