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Friday, Apr 25, 2014

District 13 candidates take to the airwaves

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ST. PETERSBURG — Hours after David Jolly won the Republican primary to fill U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s seat in Congress, his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, launched her first TV ad.

The ad featured Sink’s father, who said she is gifted at compromise. Shortly after it went public, Jolly struck back with an ad of his own.

The two candidates, as well as Libertarian Lucas Overby, have 54 days to sell themselves to voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which runs from Dunedin south to Tierra Verde, with parts of downtown and south St. Petersburg cut out.

The compressed election cycle means such ads likely will run constantly throughout the Tampa Bay media market up to the election on March 11. A barrage of emails will spout campaign messages or ask for money. Some will be paid for by the campaigns, some by Republicans and Democrats at the state and national level, and some by outside organizations.

Those closely watching the race say for Sink to win she’ll have to distance herself from the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” and campaign more aggressively than she did against Rick Scott during her unsuccessful run for governor.

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Jolly, on the flip side, needs to persuade national political action committees that his campaign is worthy of investment. The former lobbyist and Young aide was able to raise nearly $400,000 ahead of the primary, most of which is already spent. But Sink, who already is familiar to many Pinellas voters, has about $1 million on hand.

“The bigger problem for Jolly is that Sink is a much better funded candidate, and she’s a well known candidate,” said Kyle Kondik, a managing editor at Washington blog Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “National Republicans need to assess how much money they want to spend on this race.”

The website is closely watching dozens of congressional races and ranking how competitive they are. Wednesday, it changed District 13 from what it considered a toss-up district to one that slightly favors Democrats.

“I don’t think national Republicans can sit it out completely,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “It’s a seat they’ve had for decades, they can’t just give it up.”

Jolly has to unify his party after a bitter primary caused division between his backers and those who supported his main opponent, state Rep. Kathleen Peters, who has not said whether she will endorse him.

“We have spoken and agree about the importance of working together to ensure this seat remains conservative,” Peters said in an email. “We will continue our dialog.”

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Her endorsement could be key.

“One thing’s for sure: the Republicans need to be unified going into March 11,” Gonzales said. “The district isn’t Republican enough to win a seat for the GOP without full party support.”

Both candidates will be on the receiving end of attacks over residency. “There’s ammo with both sides,” Kondik said.

Jolly served as an aide and legal counsel to Young for years and worked as a lobbyist in Washington. While ties to the popular congressman could be a plus, the D.C. lobbyist label would be far from it — something Democrats seized on Monday.

“From his lobbyist profession, to his 202 area code, to his downtown D.C. office, David Jolly is Washington,” Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp wrote in a press release.

Sink, meanwhile, has received plenty of criticism for moving from Hillsborough County to run for the seat, then renting a home in Pinellas instead of buying. Her opposition is trying to portray her as the candidate hand-picked by the Washington establishment.

“My opponent wants to win this for Washington,” Jolly said in the ad that came out Wednesday. “I’m in this to win one for Pinellas.”

The fight over who has greater claim to Pinellas makes the unusual special election even more unusual.

“Each candidate is trying to claim they’re the most genuinely Pinellas-oriented candidate,” said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a battle over where somebody lives.” kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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