The race to replace C.W. “Bill” Young in Congress heated up on Monday night as Republican David Jolly, Libertarian Lucas Overby, and Democrat Alex Sink squared off in a debate at St. Pete College.
The winner of the debate was clearly Overby, whose 15 minutes of fame were fleeting, albeit refreshing. As one debate watcher told me, “He’s so real and honest,” as to suggest the other two are not.
Jolly and Sink undoubtedly have their core convictions, but they are guarded and reserved. One overstatement off their scripted talking points with more than a kernel of truth, and the next thing you know they’re getting blasted by their opponent with ominous TV ads reminding voters how dangerous, out-of-touch and extremist they are.
Social Security needs reforming. Yet a candidate who reminds seniors — as Overby did — that they, like everyone else, need to make sacrifices to preserve the program for their children and grandchildren might as well jam a stick in their eye — because if they don’t their opponent will.
The lack of candor on this, and many other issues by Jolly and Sink, is what makes American politics look like a dropped blueberry-cream pie. Yet there is little difference between them and most any other congressional candidate across the country.
For his part, Overby can afford to be straightforward, as he has little to lose, and no chance of winning. The other two have core constituencies to be concerned with, a media waiting for the next opportunity to catch them in a gaffe or misstatement, and the real possibility of victory.
Overby aside, the debate demonstrated the distinctions between Jolly and Sink, which is exactly what voters need to see, to make up their minds.
For the most part, both candidates are running a quasi-primary election campaign, more focused on getting out their “super voters” than trying to appeal to independents.
That is why Jolly boldly showed he’s a conservative Republican. During questioning at the debate, he said he wants to see Obamacare repealed (and called it the “lie of the year,”); opposes gay marriage (kind of); supports repeal of Roe v. Wade; opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; opposes light rail; opposes medical marijuana; supports the Second Amendment; and wants to see a minimum wage that is indexed to a cost of living adjustment.
Throughout the debate he reminded voters Sink is a carpetbagger, and he is not.
Sink, by contrast, worked hard to show she is the liberal Democrat. For her part, she said she only wants to see portions of Obamacare repealed; supports gay marriage; opposes repeal of Roe v. Wade; supports the Senate immigration bill (which includes a path to citizenship); supports light rail, medical marijuana, the Second Amendment (with caveats); and supports a minimum wage increase.
Sink reminded voters multiple times that she is not the former lobbyist in the room.
Sink views Jolly’s time as a lobbyist as a liability, but his time in D.C. is likely the reason he has a better grasp for the issues. Jolly demonstrated this when he said he supports indexing the minimum wage tied to a COLA, instead of Congress arbitrarily setting it. After he said this, Sink clumsily stated, “I really didn’t understand Mr. Jolly’s answer.” Jolly retorted that indexing the minimum wage with a COLA as is done with Social Security “... is actually a rather progressive position, Alex.” The audience roared with laughter.
None of this matters, though, because this race will be won on TV, and right now, that means Sink is the favorite because she has more money to make ad buys.
In the last general election cycle, 84 percent of House candidates who outspent their opponents won their elections, and winning House candidates out-raised major opponents by more than 108 percent. This doesn’t bode well for Jolly. Sources close to the Jolly campaign tell me they are all but broke. If that’s true, Sink can start measuring for drapes in her office.
Money, debates, residency length and policy differences aside, this election boils down to one thing: who each candidate will support for speaker of the House. Obviously, Jolly will support John Boehner, and Sink will be another vote for Nancy Pelosi.
Therein is the single most important (and arguably only) point of distinction between the two candidates that matters.
If Pinellas voters want to repeal Obamacare, and generally don’t like the direction our country is headed, they should vote for Jolly.
If they like Obamacare and big government, they should vote for Alex Sink.
Or as Sink so aptly pointed out their differences, “Mr. Jolly wants to cut federal spending — I disagree.”
Just like Nancy Pelosi.
Chris Ingram is a columnist, Republican political consultant, and analyst for Bay News 9. Follow him on Twitter at: @IrreverentView.