Pinellas Congressional Candidates Wrangle over Social Security, Focus on Voter Outreach
Around the State
With less than three weeks to go until the election, candidates running for an open congressional seat in Pinellas County continue to battle for position. Republican David Jolly and former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, are clashing over Social Security while also reaching out to bolster their stock with voters. The two major party candidates and Libertarian Lucas Overby will meet in the March 11 special election.
At the national level, the Democratic Congressional Committee (DCCC) released a memo on Wednesday bashing Jolly over Social Security and doubling down on their attacks against his lobbying work on the matter.
“Jolly was paid almost a hundred thousand dollars to lobby on issues like Social Security reform for a radical millionaire (and his current campaign finance co-chair) who supports privatizing Social Security – forcing seniors to gamble with their retirement on the stock market,” the DCCC insisted in the memo. “Jolly’s benefactor even called the Social Security Trust Fund a ‘Ponzi scheme.’ That’s why it’s no surprise Jolly is still saying ‘Social Security is not guaranteed,' and that privatization should ‘be on the table.'"
Jolly’s allies pushed back on Thursday. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) tried a political ju-jitsu as it sought to turn the other side’s attacks on Jolly on Social Security against Sink. On Thursday, the NRCC bashed Sink for saying she supported Simpson-Bowles.
“Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “Sending Alex Sink to Washington guarantees that seniors right here in Pinellas County are in jeopardy of losing the Social Security and Medicare benefits that they have earned and deserve.”
Jolly‘s campaign also raised Sink‘s support of Simpson-Bowles to hit her on Social Security.
“Once again, Alex Sink defends measures that would further raise costs and restrict access to care for Pinellas seniors,” said Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Jolly, on Thursday. “As she has done with her defense of Obamacare, she has told voters she intends to stand behind the ‘Simpson-Bowles’ plan, which would ultimately raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare eligibility, raise Social Security taxes and cut Medicare spending.
“Pinellas families and seniors are already suffering from the effects of Obamacare, which she defends, and now she has made it clear she would support measures that will further restrict Pinellas seniors from receiving the benefits they have worked hard for and earned,” Bascom added. “We ask Ms. Sink to explain to our communities and our seniors why she would work to enact a plan that would cut Medicare – more so than what Obamacare has already cut – and make it harder for seniors to receive physician care when doctors will be less likely to accept Medicare patients as a result.”
Besides taking shots at each other over Social Security, the candidates are trying to rally support as the contest enters its final phase. Jolly focused on fishing in the Gulf on Thursday while Sink continues efforts trying to reach voters across party lines.
On Thursday, Jolly campaigned in John’s Pass along with Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno to showcase the role fishing plays in the district’s economy. Jolly called for less federal regulation concerning fishing.
“This race is about Pinellas County,” said Jolly. “Recreational and commercial fishing have been critical to our quality of life and our economy here in Pinellas for generations. We must do more to responsibly reduce the number of fishery closures and to invest in responsible stock enhancement. After meeting jointly with members of the FRA, the Southern Offshore Fishing Association, Mayor Palladeno and marine scientists, we agree that it is time to improve how we manage fishery closures that hurt our economy and our way of life.
“We’ve agreed on four broad principles to pursue,” Jolly continued. “One: move the decision-making process on fishery closures from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington to the regional council level closest to the local stakeholders in our state and community – in our case, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Two: remove the Department of Commerce’s ability to veto gubernatorial appointments to the regional councils. Three: redirect current funding to further invest in enhanced fish habitats; and, four, redirect current funding to improve research related to survivability of juvenile fish stocks.”
“We don’t need decisions made in D.C. that adversely impact us locally,” said Palladeno. “Closures and regulatory decisions should be overseen by someone who is here and knows the local issues and the impact that those decisions have on our area. We need to elect members of Congress who are local and care about and understand local issues that impact our local fishing communities – commercial and recreational.”
Jolly also showcased the support of local fishing groups, including the Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA) and Southern Offshore Fishing Association, for his campaign.
“The FRA’s mission is to protect anglers’ fishing rights, advocate for sound management and conservation of marine resources and maximize the opportunity to fish,” said Denny O’Hern, head of the FRA. “Unfortunately, increased regulations and bureaucrats in Washington have stifled our industry
“From the first time we met with David, we knew we had a local candidate who knows about our needs and cares about our industry,” O’Hern added. “Flawed fisheries data causes unnecessary and damaging closures for certain species. The National Marine Fisheries Services only measures what goes out and consistently fails to take into consideration what comes in, resulting in flawed counts and in turn -- failed policies.”
“Fishing laws should be reasonable and backed by peer-reviewed data, but as it stands right now in Pinellas County, they are not,” said Bob Spaeth, the executive director of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association. “When local fishing laws are arbitrary and made by those who are not directly impacted, you have laws that stifle the economy and, in this case, hurt local jobs and small businesses. We know that David will fight for local jobs and is deeply rooted in this industry. David Jolly wants to help us establish a sorely-needed balance between fishing and the consumer, and we need to send him to Congress to do good work for our local community.”
Sink, who was the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2010, has been focusing on reaching out to Republican voters in recent days. Sink showcased the support of Seminole Vice Mayor Thomas Barnhorn and other Republicans on Wednesday.
“As a business leader and Florida’s chief financial officer, I never let politics get in the way of problem solving – and it’s these bipartisan, results-oriented values that we need to return to Washington,” Sink said on Wednesday. “We have to take the best ideas from every party and start getting Congress focused on tackling the challenges that matter most to Pinellas. I’m honored to receive the support of these Pinellas Republicans, and I’m running to take all the voices of every Pinellas resident – Republican, independent and Democrat – to Washington.”
“I’m a Republican, and I'm voting for Alex Sink,” said Barnhorn, who praised Sink’s record on fiscal issues. “Alex is a fiscal conservative who has done more than talk about cutting wasteful spending – as our chief financial officer, she’s actually done it. But more importantly, Alex’s commitment to bipartisan problem-solving is exactly what we need to break the gridlock in Congress. Alex’s moderate values are perfectly in line with Pinellas residents, and I know she’ll be an effective voice for our community who will bring folks together to get results, just like she always has.”
Sink’s team has been running phone banks this week as they reach out to Republican voters, insisting the Democratic candidate is a “fiscal conservative.”
At the national level, the DCCC is going to bat in support of Sink’s Republican outreach. The DCCC memo from Wednesday features quotes bashing Jolly from Florida Republicans including state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.
The DCCC made the case that Jolly was too much of a conservative for the Tampa Bay district. “In a district that moderate Republican Congressman Bill Young represented for generations, lobbyist Jolly has sprinted to the right, aligning himself more closely with the tea party than with traditional Pinellas Republicans,” the DCCC insisted. “On the issues, Jolly is more in step with Rick Scott than Bill Young: supporting a total repeal of Roe v. Wade, opposing bipartisan immigration reform and opposing marriage equality.
“In the final weeks of the election, David Jolly is turning off even Republicans, as they confront his record as a special-interest lobbyist who would balance the budget on the backs of seniors, veterans and middle class families while protecting unfair tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-wealthy,” the DCCC continued. “Lobbyist Jolly is misleading voters about his special-interest past, and has instead aligned himself with the most dysfunctional fringe of his own party – but against the interests of moderate, mainstream Pinellas Republicans. It’s just more proof that even Republicans simply do not trust a lobbyist like Jolly in Congress.”
In the meantime, outside groups continue to launch new attacks. The DCCC unveiled a Web video on Thursday, attacking Jolly on abortion. This week, the conservative YG Network sent out direct-mail pieces, bashing Sink as a “rubber stamp” for President Barack Obama.
Looking to gain ground on the others, Overby tried to paint himself as different than politics-as-usual on Thursday. Two recent polls found the Libertarian standing in the single digits, but a poll from St. Leo University showed Overby taking 12 percent.
Overby stressed on Thursday that he is a political outsider with real-world experience.
"We're all running on our prior experience and I am very proud to be running on mine,” Overby said. “I offer a completely different point of view from my opponents and I think it's a vantage point desperately needed in D.C. I come from a world that starts before the sun is up and ends long after it goes down. I have worked with just about every major industry in our state, every regulatory body, and learned what's broken in our system by actually working under it. I talk about solutions on the campaign trail because in the private sector, you either find solutions for your clients problems or you find yourself out of a job; Congress could really stand to learn a lesson from that."
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