TAMPA — Two top potential Republican contenders to replace Rep. C.W. Bill Young — state Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes — apparently won't enter the race, but another unexpected, big-name candidate is considering a run: Young's wife, Beverly Young.
Meantime, the field of potential Democratic contenders may include another prominent name: former state House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said Wednesday she has suggested to Wallace that he consider the race and that he appeared willing to think it over.
Young, who underwent another procedure Wednesday to help alleviate decades of pain in his back, said in an interview just beforehand that he made his decision after 22 House terms because, “Just all of a sudden, I realized it was my time.”
Young said the question of when to retire first arose for him decades ago in a conversation with the late U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis, a Mississippi Democrat.
“I drove him home that night and he had announced his retirement,” Young recalled. “I said, 'Senator, how do you know it is time? You are so busy. Still involved. Still doing things that are important.' He said, 'You will know it's time.' And all of a sudden, I knew it was time.' ”
Young has suffered severe back problems since he was injured in a small plane crash in the 1970s.
A run by Beverly Young is a serious prospect, in part because of a tradition in American politics of wives replacing husbands in elected office, said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican.
“Until 15 or 20 years ago, the most common way for women to hold a seat in Congress was 'the widow's mandate' — the member died, and the widow was appointed or elected,” he said.
Examples include Muriel Humphrey, appointed to replace her husband, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey in 1978, and Mary Bono, elected in 1998 to succeed her deceased husband, California Rep. Sonny Bono.
Beverly Young is known to be outspoken on issues, and often associated with Young's causes, especially the welfare of wounded American troops — potential advantages in a race, said Todd Pressman, a Palm Harbor-based political and government consultant.
“She has not been the standard retiring political wife,” he said.
Paulson and Pressman also said Beverly Young could make campaigning awkward for Republican primary competitors, who would have to be diplomatic and respectful in a campaign against the wife of a GOP icon.
In an interview, Beverly Young said she would run because of criticism of her husband by his current and former Democratic opponent, St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich.
“Bill has been Pinellas County for 50 years,” his wife said. “Democrats and Republicans both love him, and she is saying things that are untrue, saying that he doesn't care about the people in Pinellas County and doesn't care about the troops. That really offends me.”
Young said she will run “if Jessica Ehrlich gets on the ballot,” which suggests she won't decide for several months; qualifying for the race begins April 14.
In 2012 and this year, Ehrlich has refrained from unusually negative campaigning, occasionally speaking respectfully of Young's lengthy service. She has, however, hit him with standard Democratic critiques, suggesting he's less concerned about the middle class than about partisan politics and associating him with congressional failures.
She has said Young “has become a symptom of what's broken up there,” and that voters “are tired of Congressman Young's broken, dysfunctional politics in Washington and are ready for new leadership who will listen and understand what families are going through in Pinellas.”
After the congressman's announcement of his retirement Wednesday, Ehrlich said, “My first reaction is to thank him for his 43 years of service to his community.”
In response to Beverly Young's statements, Ehrlich said in an email, “I am proud and will continue to fight to end the gridlock in Congress hurting middle class families, most recently through this government shutdown. ... The priorities of Republicans in Congress are not those of middle class families in Pinellas County.”
With Young's announcement, the race for his south Pinellas County district went from a safe Republican win to one of a handful of competitive races in the nation that could decide control of the House in 2014 — a tossup race with no incumbent running.
Perhaps a score of candidates either are considering running — or won't rule out the possibility, even if they're unlikely to run.
“Politics is an ego game, and people like to be talked about,” Pressman said. “It can create interest by powerbrokers and interest groups, and raise your prominence.”
Latvala and Brandes on Wednesday refused to rule out running, but Thursday, both issued statements appearing to take their names out of the hat.
“I love the Florida Senate and want to stay there,” Latvala said.
“I have a young family and think I can best serve our community in the Florida Senate,” Brandes said.
Castor said Wallace didn't rule out running; Wallace couldn't be reached for comment.
A St. Petersburg lawyer and former state House speaker, Wallace has been one of the county's most prominent Democrats, but has long been out of the public eye. He served in the House from 1982-96; in 1998, he lost a race for education commissioner.