St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich won’t challenge former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and chief financial officer Alex Sink for the chance to fill the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s District 13 congressional seat.
Ehrlich was the only Democrat to challenge Young in the 2012 election and had announced she would run against him in 2014. But the race changed considerably after Young died Oct. 18 and Sink announced Oct. 30 she would run in the special election to fill the remainder of his term.
Despite having gleaned some name recognition and support from seven labor unions, a recent poll showed Ehrlich trailing Sink by 55 points.
“I want to thank my amazing staff, donors and volunteers for everything they have done for our campaign,” Ehrlich said in a statement released Wednesday. “In particular, I would like to thank the hardworking men and women of the labor movement who have supported my fight for Florida’s middle-class families. I also want to thank the voters of Florida’s 13th congressional district for their continued support. While this is not the result I was hoping for, I remain committed to helping the families of Pinellas County, this state, and this country.”
Sink said in a statement she hopes to work with Ehrlich during the campaign.
“I want to thank Jessica Ehrlich for her willingness to step forward and speak out for Pinellas families, and I hope that she will continue her involvement in bettering our community,” Sink said in the statement. “I look forward to working together in the coming months as we continue our campaign to restore the results-oriented, problem-solving leadership that Pinellas families expect from our representative in Washington.”
Young had announced he would retire in 2014 after finishing his 22nd term in Congress. Days later, the 82-year-old died at Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland following surgery to address severe back pain.
The seat is considered key to Democrats’ hopes of regaining control of the House of Representatives, and party leaders courted Sink to run. At the party’s state convention in Orlando two weeks ago, Sink was all but nominated in a speech by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
By last week, most other potential Democrats had cleared the deck for Sink, except for Ehrlich.
District 13 includes most of Pinellas County from Dunedin south, excluding downtown and South St. Petersburg. Last week, Sink, who lives in Thonotosassa in rural eastern Hillsborough County, said she’s shopping for a home in Pinellas. Although it’s not against the rules for members of Congress to live outside their districts, doing so is usually politically risky.
On the GOP side, former Young aide and family attorney David Jolly is expected to announce his candidacy at a press conference today in Indian Shores.
Scott issued an executive order last week setting a Jan. 14 primary and a March 11 general election to fill the seat. The winner will have to run again in November to fill the seat’s full two-year term.
Democratic party leaders showed little support for Ehrlich, a point Republicans have been playing up in suggesting that she was shoved aside to give Democrats a better chance of winning Young’s seat. Whether that or Sink’s residency resonates with voters remains to be seen.
Lauren Berns, an independent from St. Petersburg who voted for Ehrlich last year, said he wishes Ehrlich would have received more support from her own party.
“It’s a little sad that the moment the seat opens up, other candidates come out of the woodwork, and the Democratic Party forgets who was carrying their banner when the going was tough,” he said. “Of course, I imagine the Democratic Party will find some way to reward her.”