Special election for Bill Young’s seat will be complicated, expensive

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Nobody said that replacing the late GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died last week at age 82, would be easy. A special election often means a radically shortened campaign schedule, with tremendous financial consequences.

In addition, the race for Pinellas County’s 13th congressional district is sure to garner national attention as a seat uncontested for decades that now suddenly becomes a swing district.

Both Democrats and Republicans are taking the struggle for the remaining 14 months of Young’s term as a sort of measure of the national mood, even before Gov. Rick Scott sets a date for the special election.

“It’ll be a perfect storm of a special election,” GOP political consultant Sarah Bascom told Kate Bradshaw of the Tampa Tribune. “If you consider the time frame, if you consider the environment.”

Whoever wins will have to start campaigning for re-election straightaway, since the qualifying period for the 2014 mid-terms ends in May, with a primary in August and the general election in November.

There are few restrictions on a special election in Florida. Scott is in charge of setting the qualifying period, with no statutes regarding length. All that is required is a two-week period between qualifying and the primary, and another two weeks minimum until the election.

One strategy, notes Bradshaw, is for Scott to hold off on setting a timetable, to let Republicans ease the pain they are feeling from the 16-day federal shutdown. But time is a factor here; there is no one currently in the U.S. House to advocate for the constituents of Pinellas CD 13. Waiting too long could also hurt Scott politically, by painting him as uncaring to the needs of the district.

Further complicating the situation would be holding an election during the holidays, which could put off voters.

The potential Democratic field for the special election includes former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long.

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said Friday that he would not run. Justice ran (and lost) against Young in 2010. Among those other possible contenders not expressing interest were names like County Commission Chair Ken Welch and former Gov. Charlie Crist.

For the Republicans, some high-profile names being floated include former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, and current Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who was a Young adviser for many years.

Young’s family members — widow Beverly, son Billy or brother Tom — or his personal attorney David Jolly may also be tapped to enter the race, Bradshaw writes.

Although the winner will have to start campaigning again immediately, they will enjoy some distinct advantages — as an incumbent with access to the party resources, consultants and funds.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.