Alex Sink, the state’s former chief financial officer, announced Wednesday she will mount a campaign to succeed the late Republican Rep. Bill Young, Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, who died earlier this month.
In a statement, the 65-year-old Democrat said she was responding to "a deep frustration with the dysfunctional and reckless politics of Washington that was responsible for the painful, irresponsible shutdown of our nation’s government." She painted herself as a bipartisan problem solver, citing her term as the state’s CFO and her experience running Bank of America’s Florida operations.
"I never let politics, finger-pointing or name-calling stand in the way of getting results for the people I represent, and it’s these results-oriented values that I want to bring to Washington," she said in a statement. "For the sake of our economy, our businesses and our families, we have to restore problem-solving leadership."
While election officials have yet to set a date for the special election, the race is being watched closely as a potential bellwether of the national mood heading into the 2014 midterm elections.
The Pinellas County seat is located in a swing-voting district that President Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. President George W. Bush won the district in 2004.
About 37 percent of the more than 455,000 voters in Congressional District 13 are Republican, 35 percent Democrat and about 28 percent independent or other party.
For Democrats, Sink brings wide name recognition. She was the party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2010, losing narrowly to Rick Scott. She had been mulling another campaign for the governor’s office but decided against a run last month.
Sink has begun looking for a Pinellas County home and said she will move "imminently" into the 13th district from her east Hillsborough County home 45 minutes away.
Republicans in Florida and Washington criticized Sink’s record as Florida’s chief financial officer, tying her to the state’s sour economy and increasing debt during the recession.
Sink will face at least one Democratic challenger. Jessica Ehrlich, who lost to Young last year, had already declared her candidacy for 2014 months ago. As of July, she had raised nearly $154,000.
It’s unclear who will run for the Republican nomination. Young’s son, Bill Young II, has expressed interest in the past in running for office.
The offices of the governor and Pinellas elections supervisor are looking at scheduling the primary for Jan. 14 and the general election for March 11, though nothing has been finalized.
The winner of that special election could face another election less than six months later — an Aug. 26 primary, then a general election on Nov. 4, 2014.
Democrats would be hard-pressed to find a higher-profile candidate than Sink for the special election already drawing national attention. Republicans were treating her like their chief opponent even before she announced her candidacy.
In addition to helping lead four banks doing business in Pinellas County, Sink said that as CFO she worked closely on the BP oil spill that affected the county, helped crack down on insurance agents scamming victims in Pinellas and selected Largo to be the site of one of her office’s two call centers, after consolidating 11 centers to save money.
Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.