SEMINOLE — More key differences are starting to emerge among the Republican, Democrat and Libertarian hoping to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young.
It wasn’t “Obamacare” or flood insurance reform or entitlement spending that was most prominent in the wide-ranging conversation. They were brought up, and the candidates gave well-rehearsed positions on the issue, but it was residence that often dominated the conversation.
It’s unclear whether the issue ultimately will affect the race’s outcome, but it’s apparently not going anywhere, either.
Alex Sink recently moved from Thonotosassa in eastern Hillsborough County and is now renting in Pinellas, and critics have accused her of being strong-armed into the race by national Democrats like House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.
Sink had to address the issue several times, both from the moderators and from Republican candidate David Jolly, who confronted her at several points on it. During his introductory speech, he told the audience of about 200 that if Sink really wanted to run for Congress, she should have done so in her home district against U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.
“My opponent moved to Pinellas County for one reason: to run for Congress and further the agenda of President Obama,” he said.
During a part of the debate where the candidates were asked to direct a question toward one of their opponents, Jolly asked Sink whether she was recruited by to Democrats to run for the seat.
Sink skated away from the question by citing her popularity among local Democrats, including county party chair Mark Hanisee.
“When I decided to move to Pinellas County I had conversations with the local Democratic party and most of the Democratic elected officials here,” Sink said. “I’ve been endorsed by 55 elected officials here in Pinellas County, and those are the people whose opinions I relied on.”
Jolly wasn’t satisfied.
“Can we insist on an answer?” he asked the panel as they cut to commercial.
A moment prior, when given her own opportunity to take a dig at Jolly by way of a question, Sink instead somewhat surprisingly asked Libertarian Lucas Overby to talk a bit about his party’s beliefs.
In another unexpected moment, when Sink criticized Jolly for his career as a Washington lobbyist for a client that was pushing for, among other things, offshore oil drilling, Jolly turned the table on her.
“Here’s my question to you,” he said. “Would you pledge tonight to return every dollar that you have received from a federal lobbyist or special interest? You have bankrolled your political career raising money from lobbyists. Are you prepared to give that back?”
Amid the barbs between the two candidates, key differences began to emerge among the three, especially between Sink and Jolly.
During “lightning round” questions calling for short answers, Jolly said he unequivocally opposes medical marijuana and abortion rights provided through Roe v. Wade, as well as gay marriage.
Sink said she supports all three, as did Overby.
Jolly, meanwhile, said he favors gun rights and military intervention in Syria. Asked about a requirement for the federal government to have a balanced budget, he and Overby said they support it. Sink raised some eyebrows when she said she did not support it.
The debate was one of just three ahead of the March 11 special election. So far, campaigning has been consistently negative and largely forged over the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” and the Republican and Democrat candidates’ records as well as their residency within the district.
Five weeks remain in the run-up to the special election that will decide who will fill the seat Young occupied for more than four decades until his death last October.
The candidates’ campaigns and respective parties and outside groups have already spent millions on broadcast and digital ads during the shrunken, highly competitive special election cycle.