Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Who believed this would be Republican field to succeed Rep. C.W. Bill Young?

Like characters in an Agatha Christie novel, the leading suspects have all vanished. Unexpectedly. Inexplicably. One after another.

There was the longtime county commissioner. The sheriff. The former mayors of Clearwater and St. Petersburg. One state senator, and then another. Even the widow, brother and son of the dearly departed hero.

The most recognizable names in the Republican Party in Pinellas County have all politely declined to run for a congressional seat owned by the GOP for four decades.

And now there are only two.

David Jolly, the former general counsel for the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, was the first to declare. State Rep. Kathleen Peters is expected to announce her candidacy today.

So everyone who had the Peters-Jolly matchup in the Republican primary sweepstakes, please raise your hand.

I mean no disrespect to either candidate, but this is not the star-studded field you might have expected for a seat seen as critical to the Republican Party's fortunes in Congress.

Folks have been speculating, plotting and maneuvering for years in anticipation of this seat finally coming open. One would-be candidate said it should have been a bloodbath with a half-dozen politicians elbowing their way to the front of the line.

Instead, the frontrunner is a guy nobody had heard of a month ago. And his presence was so underwhelming, a freshman state legislator had to be recruited as an alternative.

What gives? Where are the big names? Why does everyone else suddenly have something better to do?

As you might expect, there is no single answer. It is more like an accumulation of factors that led to the abandoning of the ship until only a couple of deckhands remained.

For instance, being a member of the House of Representatives doesn't have the cache you might expect. Considering approval ratings for Congress rival those of household insects, it makes the campaign trail seem less enticing.

There is also the sense among some elected officials that they can accomplish more in their current positions than they could at the bottom of the seniority pool in the U.S. House of Representatives. You could put state Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes in this category, as well as Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

For some potential candidates in the business world, there might be economic concerns that make this poor timing. Former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker might fit in that category.

Facing a well-known and well-financed Democratic candidate in Alex Sink also plays a role. This seat may have belonged to Republicans since the Nixon administration, but there is no guarantee that moderate Pinellas voters will have the same warm feelings for the next GOP candidate as they did for Young.

This doesn't mean Jolly or Peters can't win. And it doesn't mean they aren't quality candidates. Jolly is showing strong fundraising skills, and Peters will get a lot of help from the movers and shakers in Pinellas politics.

The point is there were more obvious candidates.

For years, there was a Who's Who type quality when it came to guessing which politician would end up as the successor to the venerable Young.

And in the end, it's turned into more of a Who's That?

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