When they head to the polls for the August primary, Pinellas Democrats will get to choose among three candidates seeking to run against U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in the general election.
Having so many options is rare when it comes to Young's seat, which the Republican has dominated for four decades.
In the history of Young's tenure — about 38 years — only twice have enough Democrats run to trigger primaries for the seat.
This year, Democrats have very clear choices in Samm Simpson, 54, who won 34 percent of the vote against Young in 2006; Max Linn, 48, who ran for governor in 2006 with the Reform Party; and Bob Hackworth, 53, the mayor of Dunedin.
At a debate this week, the trio sounded similar positions on core issues but with drastically different political styles.
To cheers from her loyal supporters, Simpson spoke with fiery rhetoric about jailing corporate and governmental wrongdoers.
Hackworth took the most moderate stance, sticking to Sen. Barack Obama's platform and arguing that he presents the best choice to reach a wide swath of Pinellas voters. He noted he's the only candidate to hold public office.
"That's going to be an incredibly important distinction in the general election," Hackworth said.
Linn emphasized that he has campaigned statewide for term limits and to encourage citizen participation in government.
District 10 includes most of Pinellas County, excluding Clearwater and most of south St. Petersburg.
On the issues
Young's challengers all rail against what they call the failed policies of the Bush administration. The three say America needs universal health care, economic reform and an end to the Iraq War.
"We absolutely have to be out of Iraq," Simpson said.
All three say they oppose offshore drilling and don't think that stimulus checks are the cure for the economy. Simpson and Linn support single-payer health care while Hackworth favors Obama's plan.
Distinguishing herself on abortion, Simpson says she supports legal abortion but believes life begins at conception and supports policy like sex education that might reduce the number of abortions.
Linn wants to bring the term limits cause to Congress.
"I don't think people should make it a career," he said.
Only Simpson was a Democrat before this year. She changed her party affiliation from independent to Democrat before her run against Young in 2006.
Simpson, who describes herself as both "independent-thinking" and the only "real" Democrat in the race, said she considered registering Republican this year to vote Ron Paul for president. She now supports Obama.
While Simpson was challenging Young two years ago, Max Linn was running with the Reform Party against Charlie Crist. Before that, the multimillionaire financial planner was a Republican. He registered as a Democrat in January but says he's always held the same political philosophy: fiscal responsibility and limited government.
"I feel that the Republican Party left me," Linn said. "I never left them."
Hackworth, who got in the race partly because he didn't think the other candidates presented voters a strong candidate to beat Young, requested a party change from Republican to Democrat in February. It went through the following month.
Hackworth said he's in line with Democratic priorities and didn't change his registration earlier because he has held non-partisan offices where affiliation was irrelevant.
Simpson has run a grassroots campaign, collecting signatures to get on the ballot and raising a majority of her funds from individual donors, according to the Federal Election Commission. She said she has raised more than $15,000.
Linn's and Hackworth's campaign funds are largely made up of money from their own pockets. According to the most recent FEC filings, Linn has donated about $350,000 and has received another $16,000 in donations.
Hackworth, who got in the race the latest, has raised about $72,000, about $45,000 of his own money. He's been trying to tap local Democratic leaders and held a fundraiser in downtown St. Petersburg last month that drew state Sen. Charlie Justice and Rep. Darryl Rouson.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.