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Last week's death of Florida Republican Bill Young left a seat open in the House of Representatives. Young represented a closely divided district. The election to replace him will be the first one in a swing district since the government shutdown and debt ceiling battles earlier this month. Congressman Young was buried yesterday.
The governor has not yet picked a date for the election to replace him, but the race is expected to be expensive, and recent events in Washington are likely to fuel the debate. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Bill Young had been in Congress since 1971, an establishment Republican not afraid to compromise to get a deal. Take these remarks from almost two years ago on the House floor, at a time when bipartisanship was no longer an exalted goal.
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REPRESENTATIVE BILL YOUNG: It makes me feel good that we have an agreement that was agreed upon by the Republicans and the Democrats in the House and the Republicans and the Democrats in the Senate. We will...
GONYEA: Young represented Florida's 13th District, which includes St. Petersburg and cities to the north, in the Tampa Bay area. Susan MacManus is a political scientist at the University of South Florida.
SUSAN MACMANUS: It is an extremely competitive district, and the only reason that Bill Young was re-elected so many times in a district that twice now has voted for President Obama is his tremendous constituency service and the respect that people had for his service over the years.
GONYEA: Not only did President Obama carry the district twice, Democrats seeking national and statewide office have also done very well there in the past decade. MacManus says that means the special election, likely to take place sometime early next year, will be one of the most competitive and most pricey Florida has seen in quite a while. Republican National Congressional Committee spokesperson Andrea Bozek says the GOP needs, and predicts they'll find, a candidate very similar to the late congressman.
ANDREA BOZEK: I think we need an independent leader in this district, just like Bill Young, who really, you know, works every day on behalf of Florida families. And that's exactly what Bill Young did in Congress.
GONYEA: As for the potential impact of the government shutdown, which national polls show has hurt the Republican brand, Bozek says this.
BOZEK: You know, I think it's dangerous to say any one event is going to impact a House race that'll probably likely occur this spring.
GONYEA: Meanwhile, New York Congressman Steve Israel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says it's too early to say if this race will be any kind of bellwether. Still, Democrats see great opportunity here to take the story of the shutdown to voters.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ISRAEL: As a result of Republican partisan shutdowns and the crisis and its impact on our economy, independent voters in suburban districts like this are fleeing House Republicans. You know, they want leaders with reasonable, common-sense solutions and a sense of fiscal responsibility and not reckless Republicans willing to damage the economy to advance a partisan agenda.
GONYEA: Political scientist MacManus says the airwaves in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market will no doubt be blanketed by Democratic ads about the shutdown. She also says given the district's makeup, Democrats may have a slight edge. But she also expects Republicans to fight back by using the difficult rollout of the Affordable Care Act as a potentially effective weapon. Don Gonyea, NPR News.
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