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Politics

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

June 22, 2010 - 6:00pm

The congressional race in Floridas 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, Justices 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 congressmans four decades of service in Congress. Messages left at Youngs 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, Justices 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 Justices upset win for the Senate seat in 2006. He has experience with overcoming the odds, said Kates. Hes 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 weve ever seen, said Kates, adding that Youngs 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 Youngs 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 Justices $61,193.

A large part of that advantage comes from Youngs 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. Were in a difficult economy and were feeling it.

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

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