Alex Sink, the former Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, is running for Congress in the seat held for 43 years by the late Bill Young. She is the first big name to enter the race — what will be a special election scheduled by Governor Rick Scott — and she sets the stage for what promises to be a contentious fight on a number of fronts.
With the entrance of the high-profile Sink, both Democrats and Republicans now face a somewhat complex series of advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s start with Democrats and fundraising. Sink has access to a state-wide fundraising network she will assuredly need… at some point.
The already announced Democrat in the race, Jessica Ehrlich, who ran against Young last cycle, has proven an able fundraiser, but she will be no match for Sink. In an irony, because of the short clock for the special election — likely mid-January for the primary and mid-March for the general, though nothing is set — money will almost be less important than name identification.
Alex Sink has what must be near-universal name ID. Ehrlich should have high name ID, but again, nothing on the scale of what Sink brings to the race.
Ehrlich has been endorsed by some big unions, and Sink is already being attacked by the Republican Party. The calls for Ehrlich to withdraw will only grow, but I don’t know that she will. If the Republican attacks appear to be working, and she can count on the support of loyalists and grassroots supporters she’s already locked up, then there is a path to victory for her, albeit a narrow one.
For Republicans, their framework for this race is actually worse, because it is a lot more complicated. Right now, the only Republican who could even come close to striking distance of Alex Sink is former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Congressman Young’s son, Bill Young, Jr., is about the next best thing, and if early polling is to be believed, he would not fare well against Sink in the special election.
Republicans may be thinking about this race, itself very complicated, in a strategic way. The special election will be determined around March (theoretically). Let’s assume for just a moment that Sink, already running as an outsider and slamming a very unpopular Congress, wins in March. Two things immediately happen: Rep. Sink immediately becomes a part of that incredibly unpopular establishment. And she immediately has to begin running to retain her seat. There would be a primary on August 26, and the general election the following November.
In other words, if she wins in January and March, she will effectively be running a non-stop campaign for more than a year. And here’s what political folks in D.C. will tell you: since House seats are two year terms, incumbents never really stop running. It is a perpetual campaign.
Someone like Mayor Baker doesn’t necessarily have to jump in for the special election. He could wait until next year when Congresswoman Sink would only just be catching her breath after the special election, and announce his candidacy for 2014. Of course, it is unclear at best that Mayor Baker would have a clear field. There is already an announced Republican in the race, and the other high-profile names being floated as contenders don’t strike me as the type to simply fade away.
Congressman Young was so popular in this area he barely had to campaign. I don’t mean that as a slam to the late Congressman — it speaks to his long, respected service and how well thought of he was in this region and this state.
Those days are over. Democrat or Republican, we’re all going to have to get used to seeing a lot of the campaign of whoever our new Congressperson will be.