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Sunday, Apr 20, 2014

Bryce: Republicans choosing sides in District 13 race


Following the passing of the beloved U.S. Rep C.W. “Bill” Young, an interesting race has taken shape to replace the longtime congressman — one the nation will be watching.

While there are officially six candidates in the race — former Democratic chief financial officer and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, three Republicans, one Libertarian and one write-in candidate — it will be Sink and the winner of the Jan. 14 Republican primary squaring off in the March special election to fill the remainder of Young’s term.

The GOP field consists of Peter Jolly, Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher. Jolly, who was the personal attorney and general counsel to Young, is being backed by Young’s widow, Beverly, and has been presented as his heir-apparent. But Peters, a state representative and former South Pasadena mayor, got into the race at the urging of state Sen. Jack Latvala. Bircher is a dark-horse candidate with a respectable military record, but the race will come down to Jolly and Peters, both of whom know Pinellas intimately.

The GOP primary is shaping up into a game of dodge ball, with both camps picking their teams. Jolly’s list of supporters includes former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker; Seminole mayor and former state Rep. Leslie Waters; former Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler; former School Board member Nancy Bostock; Gordon England, the former Navy Secretary and deputy secretary of defense; former Ambassador Mel Sembler; state Rep. Larry Ahern; U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent and former Florida Adjutant General Douglas Burnett.

Along with Latvala, Peters’ backers include Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a longtime aide to Young; Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub; Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri; Pinellas Clerk Ken Burke; Pinellas Tax Collector Diane Nelson and former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield.

Now the game begins. Both candidates will have to distinguish themselves without damaging the other. This is like playing dodge ball with Styrofoam balls. I don’t worry so much about Jolly or Peters, as I believe they will conduct dignified campaigns. I just hope their “teammates” are cognizant of the risks involved. Bircher is a potential wild card who might upset the game by throwing barbs at either Jolly or Peters or both.

A nasty GOP primary will effectively hand over the election to Sink, as the public will no longer tolerate such a contest. Look for the liberal media to try and provoke the candidates into a squabble.

Sink, who has a well-established residence in Thonotosassa in eastern Hillsborough County, suddenly developed a love affair with Pinellas County following Young’s announcement last month that he would retire after his term ended in 2014. That was just days before he died.

Congressional candidates are not required to live in the districts they seek to represent; however, not doing so creates an obvious political liability. Sink recently signed a 12-month lease on a condo in the Feather Sound area — less than four months from Election Day. Would she have moved here if not to run for the District 13 seat? Will she keep her condo if she loses? Throughout the race, Republicans will likely remind voters of Sink’s unfamiliarity with Pinellas County.

Sink’s Achilles’ heel, though, is not her unfamiliarity with Pinellas but her endorsement of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which she touted during her gubernatorial race. She will find it incredibly difficult to distance herself from that political albatross.

Nonetheless, Sink will be a tough opponent. She is well-known, won over voters in the district when she ran against Rick Scott in 2010 and will have lots of money at her disposal, along with a formidable “dodge ball” team of her own, less the Styrofoam balls.

The sides have been chosen, and everybody is ready to play. Game on!

Keep the faith.