Alex Sink claims Obama “failed us” with rollout of Affordable Care Act
In the Suncoast Tiger’s Den Friday afternoon, one Congressional District 13 candidate may have said it best — replacing C.W. Bill Young will come down to matter of “job qualifications.”
All five Congressional contenders entered the Den at the St. Pete Yacht Club to ask the packed house of more than 250 political and business leaders for a chance to represent Pinellas County in Congress.
Each hopes to succeed the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October. They face a hotly-contested Republican primary Jan. 14, as well as the special general election March 11.
The 60-minute question and answer session — it would be a stretch to call it a “debate” — was more about reputation than qualifications. It might not have risen to match the Tiger’s Den status as “carving up” politicians for lunch, but the candidates for Young’s old seat all jumped at the opportunity to (hopefully) stand out from the pack.
The three Republican hopefuls were on hand: former Young General Counsel David Jolly, state Rep. Kathleen Peters (who recently closed a 20-point gap with Jolly) and retired Marine Corps Reserve Brigadier Gen. Mark Bircher.
Former Florida CFO Alex Sink, the lone Democrat in the race, emphasized her reputation fiscal record to as someone who “gets things done,” promising to promote financial responsibility to Capitol Hill.
Sink scored points with the crowd by blasting President Barack Obama’s administration over the “disastrous” rollout of the Affordable Care Act. She said Obama ultimately “failed us” with the rollout of the ACA, but that didn’t mean the country should scrap healthcare.
“I believe that Americans deserve the right to health insurance,” Sink said.
Sink’s appearance may have been well-received in the Den, but at this point in the truncated election timetable the real build up in the Tiger’s Den was the Republican field.
The CD13 race has not only divided the Pinellas GOP, but also Bill Young’s family, where mother and son brought the rift in stark contrast.
Peters, opening with an emotional plea to the crowd, also portrayed herself as a “get it done kind of girl” who will bring to Congress a focus on the children on Pinellas County.
It is a populist, hometown-girl message that seems to connect with Pinellas County GOP voters, evidenced by the traction Peters gained in closing a 20-point deficit against Jolly virtually overnight.
Peters’ success also was helped by some high-profile Republican endorsements, such as C.W. Bill Young II, son of the late Congressman, and iconic Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala. Both were in attendance.
The first-term Tallahassee lawmaker also focused on her reputation as mayor of South Pasadena, a Regional Chamber of Commerce official and a soccer mom.
Jolly, who worked intimately with Young for more than two decades, took an early lead in the primary by his won reputation as the “chosen” successor by the Pinellas Republican elite, including Young’s widow (and Bill Jr.’s mother) Beverly.
But Jolly’s critics have gotten a lot of mileage by hammering him for being too close to Washington — only to serve “his clients” once elected.
In his opening statement, Jolly immediately tried to shake the “insider lobbyist” label by insisting he was just a “Pinellas businessman,” who would be ready for the job on “day one.” He boasted the reason he is leading the competition is that he is the only true “Bill Young Republican.”
The irony of the afternoon was not lost on Jolly, who noted that the debate took place in downtown St. Pete, nearly a mile outside of the CD13 boundary — in the middle of Congressional District 14.
But it was Libertarian Party candidate Lucas Overby that got in what could be the line of the day.
The 27-year-old candidate, trying to build the reputation that he will not answer to any political party, called himself “a Libertarian, but not that type of Libertarian.”
It was an attempt to distance himself from other — more radical — politicians recently taking up the Libertarian mantle, another reputation that could take a hit in the increasingly swing district CD 13 race.