The death of veteran Republican Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young of Florida on Oct. 18 has paved the way for what is sure to be the first test in 2014 of voter reaction to the government shutdown and debt-ceiling debacle.
Whether Democrats win the Sunshine State's 13th District for the first time in more than 60 years or the Republicans hold on, the special election around St. Petersburg is sure to attract national press attention as the dress rehearsal for the 2014 midterm elections.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott has yet to set a date for the special election, but signs are strong that it will be March 11. That is the same date that more than a dozen cities and towns in Pinellas County — the dominant county in the 13th District — hold municipal elections.
Its long history in Republican hands notwithstanding, the 13th will inarguably be up for grabs in a special election. The district backed Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Last year, Young won his closest re-election in memory, 58 percent to 42 percent.
"Prospective candidates and party officials on Saturday did not want to publicly discuss political machinations so soon after Young's death," said Adam Smith, veteran political reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. "But the new time frame is sure to prompt national party officials to heavily pressure candidates with the best-known names and money-raising potential to jump in — and the underdogs to clear out of the way in the name of delivering the seat to their respective parties."
Smith was referring to Democrat Alex Sink, Florida's former chief financial officer and the near-successful candidate for governor against Scott in 2010.
Sink, who told the Tampa Bay Tribune she is "seriously considering" the House race, likely would move from her home in Hillsborough County, just outside the 13th, should she become a candidate.
Along with being well known from past races, Sink — who carried the 13th in her bid for governor — has intriguing family relations. Her late husband Bill McBride was the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2002, and her great-grandfather and great-grand uncle were the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker.
Among Republicans, the most-oft mentioned candidate is former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. But in a district that has been held by Republicans since 1952, the GOP field is sure to be crowded.
Former state Rep. Larry Crow, who led the effort to impeach errant state judges, already has declared for the open seat. At least a half-dozen other GOP hopefuls are eyeing the race.
Perhaps the most fascinating prospect on the Republican side is C.W. "Billy" Young II, namesake son of the late congressman. Having been on the verge of declaring for a state legislative seat, the 28-year-old Young began to signal he might aim higher. Another Republican increasingly mentioned is Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, previously Rep. Young's longtime chief of staff.
As to whether voters will pass on a congressional seat from father to son as if by deed, Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institute, author of a much-praised book on American political dynasties, told Newsmax: "Since colonial times, 10 percent to 15 percent of U.S. House districts are held by children of past lawmakers.
"There are obviously different things that benefit 'dynasties' today," Hess said. "Where party organizations were much stronger two generations ago and were big factors in a district going from father to son, today it is more likely Daddy will pass on a big Rolodex to his candidate-child."
One thing is certain now in Florida's 13th District: As Smith of the Tampa Bay Times wrote, "Get ready to see some Washington Beltway reporters on the campaign trail in Pinellas."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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