ST. PETERSBURG — Jessica Ehrlich is the latest Democrat to attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores. Young has fended off Democrats before — he's held the seat since 1971.
At least one national Democrat, though, thinks Ehrlich has a chance: Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. The Democratic House minority whip visited Ehrlich's campaign office Wednesday morning to discuss Medicare with Ehrlich and a small group of Pinellas County seniors.
Hoyer cast the 2012 elections as a stark choice on the role of government in society.
"There is a real, very substantive difference in the approaches of the two parties … frankly, a chasm of difference," he said.
Republican proposals for Medicare, Hoyer said, would move the program to private insurers while leaving the sickest seniors on traditional Medicare and driving up costs.
Young's name wasn't mentioned during the forum, but afterward Ehrlich said voters were ready for a change.
"He's now been in office for half a century, and his views and what he's doing really don't represent the values of people in Pinellas County," she said. "He's voted twice now for this budget that would end, essentially, Medicare as we know it."
Ehrlich, a 38-year-old attorney and St. Petersburg native, worked in Washington for former Florida Republican Rep. Clay Shaw, as an aide on the Social Security subcommittee of Ways and Means. She then worked for Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts on the financial services committee.
Hoyer called Young, 81, "a wonderful person and a good friend of mine. I like Bill Young. But this is not about personalities. This is about two different visions and two different policies for how we grow jobs, build America, continue to provide security for our seniors, our children and people at risk."
Young, meanwhile, gave the Tampa Bay Times this statement through staff: "I've told Steny for years how great Pinellas County is. I'm glad he got to visit." Young's office also pointed out that the Times' fact-checking website PolitiFact rated the statement that Republicans voted to end Medicare as the "Lie of the Year."
Since then, Democrats like Ehrlich have softened their rhetoric to include more qualifiers like ending Medicare "as we know it."
Hoyer is on a swing through Florida for Democratic candidates: He's also meeting with Val Demings (challenging Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden), Keith Fitzgerald (challenging Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota) and Patrick Murphy (challenging Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation).
Ehrlich is competing for the Democratic nomination against Nina Hayden, an attorney and former Pinellas County School Board member. Ehrlich and Hayden, 37, are scheduled to debate June 5 at a meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.