Veteran Congressman Bill Young Faces Rare and Tough Challenge From Charlie Justice

Democrat looks to knock off longest-serving Republican in U.S. House
By: Kevin Derby | Posted: June 24, 2010 4:05 AM

The congressional race in Florida’s 10th District is heating up as the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Bill Young, is facing his most serious Democratic challenger in years: Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg.

First elected to Congress in 1970, Young -- who turns 80 in December -- represents Pinellas County. While Young has not faced a challenger who pulled more than 40 percent of the vote since 1992, there are signs that the Democrats are making progress in the district. In 2008, Barack Obama carried 51 percent of the 10th District, even as Young routed Democratic candidate Samm Sampson 66-34 percent -- the same margin that Young beat Sampson in 2006.

“This is a district that is performing Democratic,” Mitch Kates, Justice’s campaign manager, said Wednesday.

With no full-time staffers, the Young campaign has not yet flipped into high gear. The campaign Web site focuses more on biographical data, reminding voters of the congressman’s four decades of service in Congress. Messages left at Young’s campaign office and at the National Republican Congressional Committee, which handles U.S. House races, were not returned.

First elected to the House in 2000 and winning a seat in the Senate in 2006, Justice’s campaign team promises to give Young a tough fight.

Asked about previous challenges to Young not doing well, Kates insisted that things would be different in 2010.

“I think one of the major differences is, Charlie is the first real opponent Bill Young has ever faced,” said Kates.

Kates pointed to Justice’s upset win for the Senate seat in 2006. “He has experience with overcoming the odds,” said Kates. “He’s been battle-tested and, as a result of that, he is a formidable opponent."

The Justice campaign is also banking on the district following trends across the nation in tossing incumbents out.

“This is one of the highest anti-incumbent moods we’ve ever seen,” said Kates, adding that Young’s four decades of service in the U.S. House make it impossible for him to be an agent of change.  

Kates also fired away at Young’s fiscal record in Congress. “He is the largest abuser of earmarks in the country,” said Kates. “Other than earmarks, he has literally done nothing.”

Where Young has a significant advantage over Justice is in cash-on-hand. At the end of the first quarter deadline on March 31, Young had more than $465,000 on hand compared to Justice’s $61,193.

A large part of that advantage comes from Young’s previous campaigns. So far in the campaign, up to the end of the first quarter of 2010, Justice raised more than $255,000 for his campaign, with $50,000 of that coming from political action committees. Young has raised almost $299,000, with almost $147,000 of that coming from PACs. In October 2009, the National Republican Congressional Campaign mocked Justice for being one of the biggest fund-raising flops in the 2010 campaign cycle.

“Fund-raising is always going to be a grind,” said Kates. “We’re in a difficult economy and we’re feeling it.”

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunsinestatenews.com, or at (850) 727-0859.

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