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Saturday, Jul 26, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Importance of District 13 race depends on who is talking

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Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2014 at 08:00 AM

The amount of outside money pouring into the District 13 special election for the U.S. House of Representatives makes you think Tuesday night's outcome is important.

Well, it is a large deal, of course. No one should ever diminish the importance of a seat in Congress.

However, because this race is about replacing an icon, the late Bill Young, let's keep the importance in perspective. The winner will find it tougher to get phone calls returned than Young did.

He spent four decades in the House, often in key committee appropriations roles, Young had major influence over how trillions of dollars were spent. He could reach across the aisle when needed to get things done.

People actually listened to what he had to say.

Compared to that, how much clout will David Jolly or Alex Sink really have when one of them gets to Washington? Probably not much.

Sink, the Democrat, has promised in her campaign ads to work with Republicans to end Washington's gridlock. That's a charming fantasy, but given the toxic atmosphere in our nation's capital it's probably nothing more than that.

Sink also has a tepid history with President Barack Obama. She declined his help in her 2010 campaign for governor. Despite ads to the contrary, she hasn't been the biggest cheerleader for the Affordable Care Act. Even now, she just says, “We need to keep what's right and fix what's wrong.”

The fact that anything could be wrong with Obamacare might be news to the Democratic establishment, just sayin'.

Jolly may have to settle for a folding chair at the back of the room should he win, given the tone of a story last week on Politico.com. Jolly reportedly told national party bosses he didn't like an attack ad against Sink, and sources anonymously described his campaign to Politico as a “Keystone Kops Operation.”

That's what happens when national money takes over a local race.

According to a website that tracks federal campaign financing, more than $4.1 million in outside money has been used to attack Sink. Democrats have been busy, too, plowing $3.6 million into attacks on Jolly.

This kind of support comes with a cost.

Whoever emerges from this race will be handed a set of talking points and be expected to follow the party line on critical votes. If you think that's not important, just ask U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis. Republican bosses recently busted Bilirakis out of his spot on the leadership team after he broke ranks to vote for flood insurance relief.

Not that it will be spun that way, of course.

If Democrats can win, it's a psychological boost for a party buffeted by Obama's plummeting approval ratings. National pundits would make a big deal about it for a couple of days, and the Democrats would then get busy trying to ensure Sink gets re-elected in November.

If Jolly wins, Republicans can claim the country is on their side heading to the fall elections. Every bit of momentum counts, and having a first-time candidate knock off a well-known Democrat would provide a lot of that.

It's a lot to talk about, for sure.

But the practical truth is that one of those two is about to succeed Bill Young. With a footprint like the one he left, filling his shoes will be too much to expect for either candidate.

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