The candidates seeking to replace the late Congressman Bill Young are preparing to face off in a Florida special election. Republican David Jolly, Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby participated in an hour-long debate Monday at St. Petersburg College.
Sponsored by AARP, the event gave the three candidates their first chance to directly address each other in a contentious campaign that is already drawing national attention.
Among the many topics, the candidates discussed immigration, minimum wage, health care, and flood insurance.
Jolly said he'd vote to repeal Obamacare immediately if he goes to Washington. "Obamacare has hurt people in Pinellas County," he said.
But Sink countered, saying she'd identify what's wrong with the Affordable Care Act and fix it. "We cannot go back to where we were before," Sink said.
On Social Security, Jolly said he'd fight to guarantee benefits to anybody who's already vested. "We can't break a promise that Washington has already made," he said. Overby said he's in favor of doing a voluntary dropout for people who would be receiving it and do it as a charitable donation. Sink said she'd fight to protect Social Security and Medicare. "It's a promise that we made to seniors because we don't want our seniors to live in poverty," she said.
As the first major match-up in advance of this year's midterm elections, the contest is shaping up to be the proving ground for political arguments Republicans and Democrats hope will resonate with moderate voters in November.
During his run for the Republican nomination, Jolly, a former Young aide, claimed the congressman's death-bed endorsement, as well as the backing of Young's widow, who appeared in TV ads.
Sink, meanwhile, had the Democratic field to herself. The former Florida chief financial officer and 2010 gubernatorial nominee has spent the last few months canvassing the district, railing against Washington gridlock and raising money. According to recent campaign finance reports, Sink has raised more than $1.1 million -- more money than the entire GOP field combined.
Both major political parties are spending millions of dollars to flood the airwaves with attack ads in the swing-voting district. The special election is March 11.