With people still grieving the death of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, political strategists and candidates are grappling with the realities of finding someone else to represent the constituents whose interests he watched over for 42 years.
That process is likely to be complicated by a drastically compressed campaign schedule, the practical and financial complications of running two elections within months of each other and the added pressure of filling Young’s shoes under a national spotlight, attracted by the implications of a high-profile fight for a congressional seat that hasn’t been competitive in decades.
The 82-year-old Republican from Indian Shores, who died Oct. 18, was re-elected in 2012, and there are still 14 months remaining in his term.
The special election to fill the remainder of Young’s term needs to be held before the 2014 regular election for his District 13 seat. The qualifying for that election ends in May. A primary follows in August, and the general is in November.
That sets a tight time frame for the special election that’s riddled with potential political pitfalls for candidates, as well for as Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has to set the date.
“It’ll be a perfect storm of a special election,” said Republican political consultant Sarah Bascom. “If you consider the time frame, if you consider the environment.”
When a U.S. Senate seat is vacated, the governor appoints someone to serve until the next statewide regular election. That’s what happened in 2009, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed George LeMieux to replace the resigning Mel Martinez. Florida law is less explicit when it comes to U.S. House seats, though.
There are few restrictions on when the election can take place. The governor has to set the start and end dates of the candidate qualifying period, though there are no restrictions on its length. Florida law also requires a minimum of two weeks between the qualifying deadline and the primary for the special election and another two weeks between the election.
Because of the lingering sentiment following the recent government shutdown, Scott may wait to schedule a special election to give Republicans a better chance.
“On the other hand, the governor can’t leave a seat open,” said University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus.
Without somebody in the seat, there is no one to cast votes in Congress on behalf of District 13. Young’s staff will still work on behalf of constituents but will not have Young’s ability to pull strings. Scott, who is running for re-election in 2014, also runs the risk of appearing uncaring if he leaves the seat open for too long.
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