ST. PETERSBURG — Two of the three Republicans in the District 13 congressional primary race to replace the late C.W. Bill Young are neck and neck, a local poll released Wednesday suggests.
State Rep. Kathleen Peters trails lobbyist David Jolly by nearly a percentage point — 28 percent to 27 percent — according to a survey by St. Pete Polls. Newcomer David Bircher, a retired Marine, is at 17 percent.
For all three, name recognition is expected to be an uphill battle. The winner will face Democrat Alex Sink, Florida’s former chief financial officer and past candidate for governor, on March 11.
In an interview with The Tampa Tribune editorial board Wednesday, Peters said her local ties set her apart in the race. She stressed her record as a lawmaker and as mayor of South Pasadena, and she largely avoided topics that are divisive among Republicans and spared criticism of her primary opponents. Instead, she targeted President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Peters stopped short of saying she would support another government shutdown over the health care act. The one in October hurt House Republicans in the polls.
“I am in support of repealing it,” she said. “We can’t just keep doing this and shutting down the government.”
The U.S. House’s inability to get things done has earned it an approval rating in the single digits, but Peters said her record as a freshman state lawmaker shows she can make a difference.
“What’s going on in Washington is frustrating. It upsets me,” she said. “I’ve got gumption, and I’ve got a track record of getting things done.”
She said she supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, but only if House Republicans can offer a solution.
Federal flood insurance, a less divisive issue, is especially important for her. Pinellas County is deeply affected by a new federal policy that will cause insurance rates to shoot up as much as tenfold.
She said it’s part of the reason she got into the race and that she would support delaying the increases until the federal government can come up with a plan to close the National Flood Insurance Plan deficit without costing homeowners and businesses. She said she would support opening up flood insurance to the free market.
“It’s got to be something that stops across the board,” she said. “Protect those mom and pop businesses and the other businesses that can’t afford it.”
Peters wouldn’t say whether she supports an immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate but is stuck in the House. She said she hasn’t read it in its entirety.
“First and foremost, we have to secure our borders,” she said. “I do believe we should have a pathway (to citizenship), but I don’t think there should be automatic anything.”
Peters’ positions on some issues may not be in line with those of the more conservative tea party elements in Congress, namely her support of beach renourishment, her opposition to offshore oil drilling and her sympathetic approach to the homeless. She defended those positions as ways to promote economic development and to tighten government spending.
Democratic Party activists have been trying to label Jolly and Peters as tea party Republicans. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday launched www.10teapartyquestions.com to challenge the two on issues that are important to conservative voters who are likely to decide the primary on Jan. 14.
Peters has said she doesn’t think the tea party reflects the view of the majority of Republicans and that she won’t modify her views to appeal to any base.
“I’m not going up for a popularity contest,” she said. “I’m going up there to do a job.”
Peters and Jolly will join Sink, Bircher and Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby for the first debate in the race at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting at noon Friday at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.