Pinellas County voters will have clear a choice when they decide who will succeed the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. David Jolly easily defeated two primary opponents Tuesday to win the Republican nomination and will face Democrat Alex Sink in the March 11 general election. Jolly and Sink should spend the next two months explaining their contrasting visions and demonstrating their familiarity with Pinellas to voters who have been paying little attention to the special election in U.S. House District 13.
Jolly, who was Young's general counsel before launching a lobbying practice, won the three-way primary over political newcomer Mark Bircher and state Rep. Kathleen Peters with a better funded campaign, a deeper understanding of federal issues and more conservative positions than Young, who held the seat for more than 40 years and died in October. Libertarian Lucas Overby has also qualified for the general election ballot.
Both Jolly and Sink, Florida's former chief financial officer, say they are committed to halting the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act that has sent some flood insurance premiums sky high since October, but their similarities largely end there. Among the differences:
Affordable Care Act. Jolly hews closely to the House Republican demand to repeal the federal law, as Young did. Sink supports the law but has been critical of its implementation. She says the law can be fine-tuned, and Jolly has yet to explain in detail how he would replace it.
Deficit reduction. Jolly would reduce the deficit through spending cuts and refuse to vote for spending on any new programs until the budget was balanced. Sink's position more closely mirrors Young's, who supported spending cuts but said investment in infrastructure and other critical areas are also necessary.
Oil drilling. Young was a reliable protector of Florida's beaches from offshore drilling for decades, a position Sink supports. Jolly says he supports the current no-drilling zones, but he lobbied for an organization that wants to expand Gulf drilling.
Immigration. Sink is supportive of the immigration reform that passed in the U.S. Senate last year, which would benefit Tampa Bay and Florida. Jolly opposes it.
Abortion rights. Jolly believes life begins at conception but did not make abortion an issue in the primary. Sink supports abortion rights.
Experience. Sink's four years as CFO and then as the Democratic nominee for governor who narrowly lost to Republican Rick Scott in 2010 has a clear track record for voters to examine. Jolly has always worked behind the scenes, first as a congressional staff member and then as a lobbyist.
The general election now features two candidates who do not have deep roots in Pinellas County, so that issue should not be a factor. Some Republicans attack Sink as a carpetbagger because the longtime Hillsborough resident moved to a rented Feather Sound condo after announcing her intentions to run. Jolly owns an Indian Shores condominium but has spent most of his professional life in Washington. Both candidates are familiar with the county, but they will need to demonstrate that they understand the district's diversity. Clearwater, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg neighborhoods north of downtown and Pass-a-Grille all have their distinctive issues and character.
This congressional seat has not been open since Richard Nixon was president, and it is one of the few competitive House seats in the nation. Jolly and Sink have less than two months to campaign, and voters should pay close attention.