Both the Democratic and Republican running in the special election to replace former Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) have been tripped up by unforced errors this week in a race that’s expected to come down to the wire.
During a Tuesday debate, Democrat Alex Sink gave an inelegant rationale for the need for immigration reform, and her Republican opponent, David Jolly, is calling on her to apologize for them.
“Immigration reform is important in our country ... because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers, and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean out hotel rooms or do our landscaping?” she said in a clip of the debate posted on conservative site Newsmax.
“And we don’t need to put those employers in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers,” she added.
The comments were picked up by a number of local blogs, and Republicans immediately pounced on them, with the Sarasota Republican Party blasting out the video with the label “Racist Liberal Democrat Alex Sink.”
Jolly's campaign called the remarks "truly disturbing and offensive," and said they indicate she's out of touch with the district.
"Alex Sink's comments during the debate this week were truly disturbing and offensive. She should apologize immediately. These comments are inappropriate and show just how out of touch Alex Sink truly is with the people of Pinellas County," said spokeswoman Sarah Bascom in an email to The Hill.
Sink has made several poorly worded statements that quickly went viral in the race. She previously said of Democrats’ hopes of taking back the House, “it’s not happening." And Republicans have turned her comments on the “exciting prospect” of ObamaCare resulting in Americans working fewer hours into an attack ad.
But it remains to be seen how much traction the comments will get, as Republican David Jolly is grappling with issues of his own this week.
He’s had to answer questions about a decades-old car crash in which he was driving and a man died. Jolly was never charged for the death and, he said, “exonerated of any culpability,” but it nonetheless generated negative headlines for the Republican.
And on Tuesday, a Tampa Bay Times report revealed Jolly received a tax break on both his Washington, D.C., and Pinellas County, Fla., homes by declaring both as his principal residence.
A campaign consultant later clarified that Jolly paid back the D.C. tax credit after realizing it was incorrect.
But the news threatens to undercut one of the advantages Jolly's tried to build in the race: that because he’s been a full-time resident of Pinellas County since buying a condo there in 2005, he has deeper connections to the area than Sink, who moved to the district to run for office there.
Multiple polls of the race, both public and private, have shown it to be close, and outside groups and the candidates have already poured a reported $8.2 million into the district in advertising, not including hundreds of thousands more spent on mailers.
A survey out Wednesday from the conservative Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Jolly, put the Republican just two points ahead of Sink, 44 to 42 percent support. The two candidates are tied, however, with voters who say they’re definitely going to vote in the March 11 election.
The swing district has become more competitive for Democrats with Young's passing. But the error-prone candidates have made it anything but a slam-dunk for either party.
—This piece was updated at 2 p.m. to reflect comment from Jolly's campaign and the Chamber poll.