Pinellas County Republicans have until 7 p.m. today to weigh in on the contentious Congressional District 13 special election primary, though thousands already have done so.
The three candidates are commercial airline pilot and retired Marine Reserve Brig. Gen. Mark Bircher, former lobbyist and counsel to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, David Jolly, and State Rep. Kathleen Peters, a former mayor of South Pasadena.
The winner will face Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby on March 11. The special election is to replace Young, a Republican who died unexpectedly last fall after 43 years in the U.S. House. The election has garnered national attention, with media outlets such as The New York Times, Fox News, CNN and The Washington Post keeping tabs, and national Republicans and Democrats weighing in with both money and political attacks.
The district, which runs from Dunedin south to Tierra Verde, minus downtown and much of south St. Petersburg, comes open as Democrats are fighting to take back control of the U.S. House. The race is also viewed as a litmus test on President Barack Obama's health care reform, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” Many will look at the election's outcome to try to divine November's midterm elections.
Locally, though, many voters are hoping to elect someone who will quickly gain the clout needed to steer millions of dollars back to the district in the form of such things as beach renourishment and military contracts for local companies.
Much of the often testy dialogue among candidates has been about Obamacare, with Jolly and Peters trying to label each other as a supporter of the bill. Bircher, a political newcomer, has managed to stay largely out of the fray.
Sink, meanwhile, remained low before the primary, aside from a few strings of emails asking supporters for donations. She spent Monday afternoon picking up litter on Indian Rocks Beach with two dozen or so supporters.
The most recent St. Petersburg Polls survey shows Jolly with the most support among likely Republican voters. Polls that have included Sink indicate she would defeat any of the Republican candidates, though no public polling has taken place in more than a month.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Pinellas County supervisor of elections website shows 31,782 voters already have cast a ballot, an unofficial pre-primary turnout of 18.7 percent. Elections office spokeswoman Julie Marcus said turnout in this primary already is well above special elections in Pasco and Palm Beach counties in recent years.
As the results come in, the three candidates and their respective campaigns will be in three midcounty locales:
- Peters will be at Bascom's Chop House, 3665 Ulmerton Blvd.
- Jolly will be at the St. Petersburg Marriott, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. N.
- Bircher will be at Seminole Lanes Bowling Center at Park Boulevard and Starkey Road.