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Race for Bill Young seat may be best national bellwether for 2014

If U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young's retirement announcement upended Tampa Bay's political landscape, his death Friday makes it unrecognizable.

Young, 82, represented Congressional District 13 for nearly 43 years, routinely winning re-election by 20 percentage points as he became the longest-serving Republican in Congress.

He towered over the Tampa Bay delegation with influence and impact measured by hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks he landed for Pinellas County and Florida.

Now his death turns Pinellas County into the ultimate bellwether of the national mood heading into the 2014 midterms.

A small handful of congressional districts nationwide are as politically competitive as Young's. Seeing such a seat open up with no incumbent favored to win is incredibly rare, which is why so many local politicians and would-be politicians started gearing up as soon as Young announced his retirement less than two weeks ago.

But the dynamic is completely changed. Mounting a campaign over 12 months is vastly different from running in a multimillion-dollar special election just a few months away.

Prospective candidates and party officials on Saturday did not want to publicly discuss political machinations so soon after Young's death. But the new time frame is sure to prompt national party officials to heavily pressure candidates with the best-known names and money-raising potential to jump in — and the underdogs to clear out of the way in the name of delivering the seat to their respective parties.

That means former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink and Republican former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker look like the overwhelming favorites.

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