PINELLAS PARK, Fla. -- Republicans on Tuesday will nominate a candidate for the special election to replace the late congressman C.W. Bill Young (R). The contender with the inside track in this Gulf Coast district just west of Tampa is David Jolly, a former Young aide. But a Jolly win is no a sure bet, and two other candidates are eager for an upset. The special election will be held March 11. Democrat Alex Sink is unopposed in the primary.
Polls close at 7 p.m. We'll have results for you over on Post Politics this evening. In the meantime, here are the three biggest things to keep in mind today about the election:
1. Will Jolly win the nomination as expected? The leading candidate headed into the election is Jolly, a former lobbyist and general counsel/confidant to Young. He's outraised the competition and outspent it on the airwaves. The limited polling on the race shows him at the head of the pack. Given that many voters use absentee ballots in the district, the prospect of an Election Day upset may be even smaller, as Jolly's structural advantages gave him a boost. But special elections can be hard to read. State Rep. Kathleen Peters is also in the mix -- she and Jolly have tussled over Obamacare during the campaign, with Jolly seeking to pitch himself as a harder-line advocate of repeal. The wild card is Mark Bircher, a political newcomer backed by former congressman Allen B. West (R-Fla.). Bircher, by virtue of his association with West, has a natural appeal to tea party voters. This centrist area that President Obama won in 2012 is not a tea party stronghold, but in a three-way race, anything can happen. And polling showed Bircher was in the mix last week.
2. What's next in the Young family drama? Young's widow, Beverly Young, is backing Jolly. But their son, Bill Young II, is supporting Peters. The rift has become very public and very contentious, with Beverly Young leveling tough words at her son. The question is what happens now. If Jolly wins, does Young II fall in line behind him? And if Peters springs an upset, will Beverly Young support her? Is this the end of the family tussling, or only one chapter? This much seems clear: Republicans need a united front and can't afford distractions as the race moves into its next stage.
3. The general election battle lines with Sink. The Republican playbook is to cast Sink as a carpetbagger -- she recently moved into the district from an area about 30 miles away -- and tether her to the unpopular federal health-care law and the Obama administration. (She says Obamacare should be repaired, not repealed.) But how will Democrats respond? If Jolly is the nominee, Democrats will double down on criticizing him for being a Washington lobbyist. A Jolly win would also set up a stark contrast over Obamacare, since he favors repeal and said in an interview that it is the issue in this election. If Peters wins, the carpetbagger attacks could get more leverage since Peters has lived in the district for nearly 30 years and not in Washington. And if Bircher wins, it's likely that Democrats will cast him as too conservative for the district. Young governed here for decades as a moderate Republican. Sink has a huge fundraising advantage and will begin the general election as a slight favorite. It seems that no matter the outcome of the primary, the special election fight will be a national testing ground for the broader messages on health care.