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Ruth: District 13 congressional race should be entertaining

It is a fairly accurate political axiom that an elected official is most vulnerable the first time he or she runs for re-election.

There are exceptions. Call it the Trey Radel Conundrum, after the Fort Myers congressman who was forced to resign before his first term even ended after getting popped on a drug arrest in Washington. There was simply no way to spin an 8-ball of cocaine bust into a man-of-the-people-fighting-for-the-little-guy campaign ad.

Such a tawdry fate is unlikely to befall congressional District 13 Rep. David Jolly, R-Brooks Brothers, a man who is so buttoned down that chances are not even his pajamas get wrinkled.

After winning a special election to succeed the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Jolly is now running for a full term in November. And unless some catastrophic scandal overtakes the Jolly political machine — revelations of a wild, unhinged sarsaparilla bender, perhaps? — it would seem the congressman would be well positioned to hold on to the seat for the foreseeable future.

Democrat Alex Sink, who lost to Jolly by less than 2 percentage points in March, has opted out of a second run for Congress. And with a May 2 qualifying deadline looming for candidates to file to take on Jolly in the fall, the list of potential opponents is not exactly a stampede of electoral ambition.

St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, who had run in the past and stepped aside for Sink, might yet enter the race. But for now she hasn't indicated any interest.

That leaves Democrat Rev. Manuel Sykes, pastor at St. Petersburg's Bethel Community Baptist Church, as the only formally announced opponent to Jolly.

It is true God works in mysterious ways. So it is probably fitting that Jolly finds himself facing off against a man of the cloth who knows a little bit about sacrificial lambs.

If Sink, a candidate who twice carried Pinellas County in her first campaign for chief financial officer and a second time as a gubernatorial candidate, couldn't parlay her name recognition to pull off a victory before narrowly losing to Jolly three months ago, the task would seem to be a bit more problematic for Sykes, who, much like Sink at the start of her campaign, doesn't even live in District 13.

The good news is at least Sykes resides in Pinellas County, so the specious Jolly attacks on Sink as a conniving carpetbagger likely wouldn't carry the same resonance against the reverend.

Still, the geography does not bode well for Sykes. District 13 runs from South Pinellas to Dunedin but carves out large swaths of the southern part of St. Petersburg and downtown, which would lean more toward a Democratic candidate, especially an African-American pol.

And despite his pastorship, Sykes has more than his fair share of baggage, not the least of which was his admission to fathering a child out of wedlock and, according to the woman, encouraging the mother to consider an abortion.

You might — might — be able to get away with that sort of behavior if you are not a cleric. But when you are a minister, the expectations for more ethical conduct go up exponentially.

Oooooops, there goes the virtuous high ground. If Sykes doesn't like reading about this chapter in his life, just wait until it starts showing up in opposition research fliers in mailboxes all over the district. Is this right? Perhaps not. But Sykes had to know that once you throw your hat in the ring, your life becomes fair game.

In announcing his candidacy Sykes delivered his full-throated support for Obamacare, immigration reform and equal pay for women, issues Jolly pretty much regards as the liberal sign of the beast. Well, at least you can't say there is a great deal of nuance between the two candidates.

Whatever his shortcomings or demographic challenges on the stump or the seemingly long odds conspiring against him, Manuel Sykes will likely bring a preacher's rhetorical passion to the hustings.

The reverend might well lose to David Jolly, but this much is fairly certain — at least this will be one of the more entertaining congressional races of 2014.

Ruth: District 13 congressional race should be entertaining 04/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2014 6:17pm]

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