At week's end, Pinellas residents had cast nearly 72,000 absentee ballot votes ahead of the March 11 special election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Of those, 42 percent came from Republicans and 40 percent from Democrats, so you might think this is good news for Republican nominee David Jolly.
Wrong. Democrats and Republicans alike have predicted Republicans would have a significant turnout advantage in Congressional District 13, probably by at least 7 percentage points. That Republicans have only a 2-point advantage has to be troubling for Jolly.
Consider that in 2012, Republicans turned in nearly 6 percent more absentee ballot votes than Democrats in the district. That was a presidential year where the Barack Obama machine had a huge get-out-the-Democratic-vote effort.
Jolly allies think 2010 is a more comparable year. If so, Republicans should be even more worried by the early vote. In 2010 (the district lines were slightly but not significantly different), Republicans accounted for 46.4 percent of the nearly 112,000 absentee votes cast and Democrats 35.4 percent.
There is no reason to assume this trend will hold to election day, and obviously, we don't know how any absentee ballot voter has voted at this point. But our recent Tampa Bay Times poll found Democrat Alex Sink peeling off twice as many Republicans — 16 percent — as Jolly was winning Democrats. That makes Jolly's narrow edge in early votes so far even more problematic for him.
Signs of Jolly's shift
Check out Jolly today on Political Connections on Bay News 9, and you may see signs he is shifting toward the center. Take same-sex marriage, where Jolly's position seemed a bit murky based on his answer in the recent Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 televised debate.
"I believe God saw Adam was lonely and he made Eve," Jolly said.
In today's taped interview, though, Jolly said he sees no problem with a ballot initiative removing the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
"I'm not threatened by how the state defines marriage," Jolly said. "I know how me, my church, my God define marriage. I respect the fact that others can define it their own way."
In the debate, Jolly said he wanted Roe vs. Wade to be overturned, but on Friday his campaign stressed that Jolly actually would favor keeping abortion legal in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at stake.
Jolly, who was born in Dunedin but has spent most of his career working in Washington, also suggested on Political Connections that longtime Hillsborough County resident Sink can't be trusted to look after the interests of Pinellas.
"She was asked if she would live in Pinellas County if she loses, and she wouldn't commit. She was asked if she would fight to keep the Rays in Pinellas County and she said no, she wouldn't do that," Jolly said. "Those are substantive issues. Look, 10 years from now, what happens if the VA wants to consolidate Bay Pines and James Haley (VA medical centers) in Tampa. What side of the fight is she going to take? She hasn't shown a willingness to fight for Pinellas County."
Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Latvala for Sink
Republican Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala tells Buzz she's backing Democrat Sink over fellow Republican Jolly.
"I am supporting Alex Sink because Pinellas County needs a voice in Congress who will represent all of the citizens of Pinellas County. Congressman Bill Young worked with both parties and knew how to get things done. Alex is a moderate who will reach across the aisle and bring Republicans and Democrats together to get things done for us," said Latvala, who last year endorsed Democrat Rick Kriseman for St. Petersburg mayor. "Alex is a problem solver and thoroughly understands the issues facing Pinellas families and she is best prepared to take our voice to Washington."
A new report released by the LeRoy Collins Institute Thursday concludes that Florida is falling behind not only the rest of the country but also the South in key areas, from teacher salaries to high-wage jobs to adequate roads. "The news is grim," it says at the outset.
The report, "Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida's Future," was written by two academics at the University of Florida, Drs. David Denslow and James Dewey, along with UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
"In a lot of ways," Dewey said, "the state of Florida is really near the bottom of the barrel." Among their findings:
• Teacher salaries in Florida declined at the fourth-fastest rate among states between 2000 and 2012, and it will be difficult to make significant progress "without increasing tax rates, however unlikely that might be."
• Gas taxes, the principal funding source for transportation, continue to erode because they are not indexed for inflation and the popularity of energy-efficient cars means people are buying less gasoline.
• Florida's lack of a personal income tax results in a heavy reliance on the 6 percent statewide sales tax and property taxes, and property taxes fall heaviest on businesses.
Not all the news in the report was grim. The authors say the Florida Retirement System, the pension fund for hundreds of thousands of public employees, is a "model" for other states and it should be left alone. Sound and strong, it is threatened by the Legislature's contemplation of requiring new entrants to join defined contribution plans.
The researchers said one way to change the direction of the state would be to increase the sales tax to 7 percent. "It would be better if we had a broader tax base, but we don't," Dewey said.
Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz.