Challenger Jessica Ehrlich criticizes Rep. C.W. Bill Young

Published June 3, 2012

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young may be a kindly, old-school political icon, but he has probably frustrated more politicians than anyone else in Tampa Bay.

Too many people to count have seen their congressional aspirations whither away while awaiting the retirement of Young, now 81 and running for his 21st term (he's the longest-serving Republican in Congress).

The highly competitive makeup of his Pinellas congressional district has let Democrats over and over again see him as vulnerable only to get crushed in November. Only one Democratic challenger — Karen Moffitt in 1992 — has ever managed to pull Young below a 60 percent victory. Barack Obama won Young's district with nearly 53 percent of the vote in 2008, and Alex Sink won it with 50.2 percent in 2010.

Now Young faces another credible Democratic challenger, St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, 38, who in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay New 9 makes clear she will try to wrap the Paul Ryan budget proposal revamping Medicare around Young's neck.

"Bill Young has definitely served this district with distinction over the last 42 years, but over the last four decades that he's been in office he's really changed and lost track of the values that we have here in Pinellas County," said Ehrlich, an alumna of Shorecrest Preparatory School, Vanderbilt University and Southern Methodist University Law School.

"He's voted twice for a budget that would end Medicare as we know it, turning it into a voucher program and would really hurt the middle class. I'm from St. Petersburg, I grew up here in Pinellas County, and those just aren't the values that we have here in Pinellas," said Ehrlich, who previously worked as an aide to former Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw and counsel to Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch on the Financial Services Committee.

Ehrlich faces former School Board member Nina Hayden in a primary, but Hayden has raised little money and Democrats in Washington are treating Ehrlich as a strong contender.

Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. today.

Democrats caucus

Florida Democratic Party activists converged in Tampa on Saturday to elect delegates to the national convention in Charlotte, N.C. — 300 delegates and 23 alternates.

It was the first time the party held such caucuses — having chosen to cast Florida's January primary as officially meaningless — rather than violate the national Democratic Party's sanctioned primary calendar.

Four years ago, they bucked the rules (and tried unsuccessfully to blame the GOP-controlled Legislature) only to have the Democratic presidential candidates boycott Florida's presidential primary.

Given the state of the party in Florida these days, it's probably unavoidable that even when they try to hold an upbeat event, it can come off as a downbeat reminder that the party represents far less today than it did yesterday in Florida. With few statewide political stars in office today, the party Saturday night honored mostly former political bright lights: former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham of Miami Lakes, former Education Commissioner Betty Castor of Tampa and Hillsborough County Commissioner and former state Sen. Les Miller of Tampa.

For party chairman

Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith has made it clear he will not seek another term as chairman after November's election. So who is his likely replacement?

So far, we hear mainly about three contenders for the next party chairman: Hillsborough State Committeeman and Democratic National Committee member Alan Clendenin; Palm Beach Democratic chairman Mark Alan Siegel; and outgoing state Rep. Scott Randolph of Orlando.

Biden in Miami

Vice President Joe Biden will be in Miami on Monday to deliver the commencement address to Cypress Bay High School graduates at Marlins Park.

Follow Adam Smith on Twitter: @AdamSmithTimes.