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Will three Pinellas 'Young Guns' become a new GOP machine?

To anyone with a long memory in Pinellas County politics, there's a question worth asking about three young Republican state House candidates.

Could the trio — Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls and Bill Young — be the start of a new "ICY machine?"

The nickname doesn't resonate much today, but in the 1960s, three men — Jack Insco, William C. Cramer, and Young's father, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young — led Pinellas County Republicans to unprecedented victories in this formerly Democratic stronghold. Because their last names started with I, C and Y, this group of Republican insurgents became known as ICY.

Now Latvala, 32, Sprowls, 30, and Young, 30, are each running for state House seats. All three are friends who have been active in the Young Republicans. Like Young, Latvala also is the son of a well-known local elected official, state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala and Sprowls met in 2004, when they each were managing campaigns for rival Republicans in a Pasco County legislative race. They each thought their candidate would win, and decided to bet breakfast on it.

"I was not a happy camper, but I showed up nonetheless," Latvala said, because he had to pay. But the two remained close, and he says today, "I consider Chris Sprowls to be one of my best friends."

Young was the only married man among the three, and he also has two children. But on Friday, only three days after winning his primary election, Sprowls got married, too.

This summer, Latvala and Sprowls helped host a fundraiser for Young at Quaker Steak & Lube in mid Pinellas, and Young jokingly said the trio might be the start of a new ICY machine.

"I didn't even know what the ICY machine was," Latvala acknowledged. Once he understood, he endorsed the concept. "Part of our goal is to be the new ICY machine and do great things in the Legislature for Pinellas County," Latvala said.

Before these three become a machine, they'll have to win a race. None of them has a cakewalk. Sprowls is challenging incumbent Rep. Carl Zimmermann, 63, D-Palm Harbor; Young is trying to unseat Rep. Dwight Dudley, 60, D-St. Petersburg; and Latvala is running for an open seat against Democrat Steve Sarnoff, 61.

It also might not hurt for the three to have a nickname. None of the men wanted to suggest one. "We're focused on trying to win our races first," said Young.

But Sarnoff was happy to oblige. "How about Young Guns shooting blanks for the GOP?"

Zimmermann seemed to like the sound of "Young Guns," but suggested voters would be better served by himself and his fellow Democratic candidates instead.

"I think the old and the wise might be a better way to go," he quipped.

They spoke jokingly, but experience will be a real issue in the campaign.

Dudley, a criminal defense attorney, said he has had multiple experiences not only in law and politics but also in starting and running businesses, including when he was in law school. As to Young, he said, "I think his experience has been somewhat elite."

But Young said his experience working in business development for the National Forensic Science Technology Center, his service on the board of the veterans group Remember Honor Support, makes him well-qualified to serve in the House.

It's too early to say who will win the races, but the presence of the three shows a new generation of Republicans is trying to assert itself.

On the Democratic side, Pinellas Democrats acknowledge they don't have a group of young candidates with the same instant name recognition as Latvala and Young, but insist the party does have a strong stable of young local talent.

"When I took over in 2010, one of my goals was to build the bench, and we have significantly built the bench," said party chairman Mark Hanisee.

Some are in their 30s, others are older but still young enough to have long political futures. Most are already in offices they can use as a springboard, such as St. Petersburg City Council members Amy Foster, 36, and Darden Rice, 44; Tarpon Springs Vice Mayor Jeff Larsen, 37; Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith, 33, and Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson, 43.

The Pinellas County Young Democrats, which could be an incubator for young talent, is in a rebuilding phase after the group's president stepped aside to start a family, said Shannon Love, a past president of the group who is now president of the Florida Young Democrats.

"There are people who are absolutely laying the groundwork to run in the next few cycles, but they're doing it in a very strategic way," said Love, 27, of St. Petersburg. She added that: "It's a natural advantage for someone like Billy (Young) or Chris (Latvala) who are amazing people and have a dad in office. We may not have that, but we're able to get along and get things done."

Love said it's common for friendships among the younger generation of aspiring politicos to cross party lines.

"Obviously we have our sides, but people are a lot more cordial," she said. "There is an understanding that people can be partisan but should put practical politics above partisanship and work together to get things done."

Will three Pinellas 'Young Guns' become a new GOP machine? 08/30/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 8:52am]

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