For decades, a race to succeed U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young was expected to draw a long line of familiar faces from both political parties. Instead, it has come down to five candidates who would not have been on the list even a year ago to succeed the longest-serving Republican in Congress, who died last month. The short list includes a former aide to Young, a former South Pasadena mayor and first-term state legislator, and a former state Cabinet member and unsuccessful candidate for governor who is moving from Hillsborough County. The unusual lineup and the compressed election schedule will require candidates to get up to speed on federal issues quickly and voters to pay attention through the holiday season.
Republicans Mark Bircher, David Jolly and Kathleen Peters will meet in a Jan. 14 special primary. The winner will face Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby on March 11. The congressional district runs from Dunedin through Clearwater and Largo to portions of St. Petersburg and includes all of the beach communities. Mail ballots for the primary will hit mailboxes in the first half of December.
Here are three areas of focus for the candidates:
Demonstrate a familiarity with District 13.
Sink, a retired banker and former state chief financial officer, is just now moving from her home in Hillsborough County to the Feather Sound area to run for this seat. Jolly grew up here and was Young's aide, but he has been working in Washington for years as a lobbyist. Peters, Bircher and Overby are Pinellas residents. But Peters, a state House representative and former mayor of South Pasadena, will need to show she knows the issues of importance to the county's midsection. Bircher, a Seminole lawyer and retired reservist, and Overby, a commercial diver from Clearwater, are relative unknowns and will need to establish themselves quickly to be viable.
Grasp federal issues.
Jolly's years in the nation's capital will likely give him an upper hand in discussing congressional issues, at least initially. Bircher, Peters, Sink and Overby will need to be quick learners on federal topics if they hope to convince voters that they can make a difference in a Capitol rife with dysfunction and partisanship. Voters want to hear from candidates who understand federal policy, have ideas about making improvements and offer more than sound bites that parrot the party line.
Embrace a regional view of Tampa Bay.
Young did not confine his service to the region and the state to the political lines of his district. The late lawmaker steered millions of dollars to the University of South Florida, the Tampa Bay Water reservoir that bears his name and other regional assets. He understood the success of his district and the success of all of Tampa Bay are linked.