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  1. Florida Politics

Alex Sink campaigns cautiously in final week before Pinellas election

Published Mar. 6, 2014

Democratic candidate Alex Sink appears to be playing it safe in the waning days of the highly watched Pinellas congressional election.

She has gone seven days without a general news conference, despite a high-profile media blitz with millions of dollars in campaign advertising from both her and Republican David Jolly.

Her last news conference was Feb. 26 to coincide with her turning in her mail ballot. While she appeared at a candidate forum Friday, she did not stay after to speak to the media as did Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby.

In an interview Wednesday, Sink denied taking a cautious approach in the last week of the race and stressed she wasn't avoiding the media.

"I have been all over the place" urging supporters to vote, she said, and also to "find every undecided voter that we possibly can." As examples, she said she went to the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg, a festival in Pass-a-Grille and spent a few hours knocking on doors.

Asked if there was a reason her campaign was not announcing these events to the media, she referred the question to an aide.

"Alex is focused on talking directly with as many voters as she can and sharing her message of bringing Republicans and Democrats together to focus on solving problems that matter to Pinellas," said campaign manager Ashley Walker.

Jolly, on the other hand, is actively seeking the spotlight. He staged a stint as a volunteer server at a Clearwater restaurant on Tuesday, and visited with volunteers at his Largo-area headquarters on Wednesday, where he thanked them. He spoke to reporters at both events. His campaign also announced plans for Jolly to visit a retirement center at 5 tonight.

Sink's campaign this week announced she was touring senior centers with a former member of the band Sha Na Na, but news releases did not say when or where. The campaign also put out a notice on Tuesday saying she would participate in that night's Dunedin Mardi Gras parade. However, her campaign did announce a business-related event for this morning.

Sink stirred up a controversy during a Feb. 25 debate in Clearwater in which she spoke about immigration reform.

In response to a question, she said she supports immigration reform, and spoke about the unfairness of a Hillsborough County valedictorian and law school graduate who can't practice law because his parents immigrated illegally. And as part of her response, she said, "We have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?"

That prompted a wave of criticism from Republicans, and Jolly said two days later her remark was "disgusting" and should disqualify her from Congress. After Jolly's comments last Thursday, a reporter attempted to reach Sink through her campaign, but she did not call back. Instead her campaign manager emailed a one-paragraph statement.

Regarding that issue, Sink said on Wednesday she has spoken to various people about her comment and, "I'm pleased that it seems that most people are thoughtful and they reviewed my whole statement and understood exactly what I was intending to say."

Asked if she would rephrase her comment if given the chance, she said, "I can't go back. The point was that I'm the only candidate in the race that believes in comprehensive immigration reform."

Overby, the Libertarian in the race, also has been attending multiple events, including invitations turned down by Jolly and Sink.

He criticized his opponents for failing to attend as many forums.

"Our job is to be in the public eye," Overby said. "Our job is to be vetted and scrutinized by the public."

Although election day is Tuesday, more than 104,000 people have voted already as of Monday, either through mail ballots or early voting.

Of those, 42 percent are Republicans, 39 percent are Democrats and 19 percent are members of smaller political parties or independents. The votes won't be counted until Tuesday.

Many pollsters call it a toss up between Jolly and Sink.

The race is to fill the seat held by longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October. The race is in Congressional District 13, which stretches from south Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of southern and downtown St. Petersburg cut out.

Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8232.

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