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Field set for bellweather U.S. House race in Florida

Republican David Jolly wins primary and will face Democrat Alex Sink in March 11 special election in the 13th District

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

florida mugST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — Republican lobbyist David Jolly has defeated two other GOP rivals to claim his party’s nomination for the open 13th District U.S. House seat in Florida, which Democrats have high hopes of capturing in a March 11 special election.

GOP nominee David Jolly

GOP nominee David Jolly

Jolly, 41, won 45 percent of the vote in the January 14 primary, beating out Florida State Rep. Kathleen Peters and retired Marine Corps General Mark Bircher. He will now face Democrat Alex Sink in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who died in October.

The district, which takes in most of Pinellas County, including St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is one of just three House seats in the South that President Barack Obama carried in 2012.

Democrats have high hopes that Sink, the party’s nominee for governor in 2010, will be able to flip the seat, which Young, an institution in Tampa Bay-area politics, had held since 1970.

Jolly is a former aide to Young, who left Capitol Hill to become a lobbyist.  Peters made his lobbying an issue during the campaign, painting him as a Washington insider.

The race also divided Young’s family. His widow, Beverly, supported Jolly, but his son, Bill Young II, backed Peters.

Bircher had the support of Allen West, a Tea Party favorite and former congressman from Palm Beach County.

Peters came in second, with 31 percent; Bircher, third, with 24 percent.

Democratic nominee Alex Sink

Democratic nominee Alex Sink

Sink, 65, a former bank executive, was elected as Florida’s chief financial officer in 2006. In 2010, she ran for governor, narrowly losing to Republican Rick Scott.

Earlier this year, Sink decided against a rematch with Scott but decided to for the 13th District seat after Young’s death, even though at the time she lived outside the district in neighboring Hillsborough County.

Despite parachuting into the district, Sink avoided a primary fight after St. Petersburg attorney Jessica Ehrlich dropped out of the race and other Pinellas Democrats opted not to run.

Given Obama’s victory in the district, and the fact that Sink carried Pinellas County in her race for governor, Democrats are hoping to make a pickup.

The outcome in such a closely divided bellweather district may be an early indication of how much problems with the rollout of Obamacare have hurt Democrats ahead of the 2014 elections.

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