ST. PETERSBURG — The race among Democrats for Pinellas County's congressional seat has been unpredictable, and Tuesday's primary is no different.
In a huge district that includes most of the county, the three Democrats, all newcomers to national politics, have forged different paths.
Samm Simpson got in first after losing in 2006 to the incumbent, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. She has tried to run a grass roots campaign, talking about bringing truth and justice to Washington as much as practical issues like health care and the economy.
"I was excited that the race would have more attention brought to it," she said of having company in the race this year. "It's a winning situation for me and for the voters."
Max Linn, a multimillionaire former financial planner, soon followed.
Linn fought for term limits in the Florida Legislature before running for governor with the Reform Party in 2006. He became a Democrat after losing faith in Republicans and realizing that a third-party run wasn't viable.
He has attacked Young with more force than his opponents, saying the congressman represents the Bush administration better than his constituents.
The last to enter was Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, who thought voters wanted change this year, but doubted Simpson or Linn could win. He's argued that people will vote for a citizen-legislator with experience in local government over Young, who has held his seat for nearly four decades.
A dogged question in the race has been money.
Linn has argued that only he can win against Young because he can self-finance his campaign. According to federal records, he's donated more than $500,000 to his campaign. But he has raised the least from individual donors, about $16,000, despite launching a fundraising site he hoped would draw money from across the country.
"In 48 years he's never had a well-funded opponent," Linn said, referring to Young's time in public office. "I will be his first, and I will beat him."
Hackworth doesn't believe that any challenger could rival Young's war chest. Among the Democrats, he's collected the most from individual donors — more than $36,000.
"I have my own personal sense of momentum," said Hackworth, who has been riding his bicycle around precincts and said he's knocked on nearly 13,000 doors. "I just feel it."
Simpson says she doesn't want big donors to answer to, and believes she can beat Young by debating him. She has raised more than $25,000 from donors.
Simpson differed from her opponents on several issues, including 9/11. Until this week, Simpson has said she wants a new, independent investigation. But this week, she blogged in response to a report that Building 7 of the World Trade Center was destroyed by fire. She believes it was demolished and said the report was "full of lies."
She also thinks there's a "high probability" that the government demolished the twin towers.
Simpson is backed by the Progressive Democrats of America and the St. Petersburg Democratic Club political action committee, among others.
Hackworth has received endorsements including from the Florida Education Association, the largest statewide teachers' union, and St. Petersburg Council member Karl Nurse.
Linn has the support of Bob Farmer, the past finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2374.