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Young and the Restless: Parties Gird for Open Seat

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) remains quiet on his 2008 re-election plans, confirming Wednesday that any announcement on whether he will seek a 20th term likely will not be made until late next spring

“I have always been opposed to long political campaigns,” the veteran appropriator told a group of reporters Wednesday afternoon. “You won’t see any political activity until I [file].”

Despite the 76-year-old Congressman’s declaration, strategists in both parties have become increasingly convinced that he will choose to end his Capitol Hill career — potentially jeopardizing another Republican-held House seat. But until he says definitively what he will do, an air of suspended animation hangs over the campaign, with no contenders willing to step forward.

Federal candidates in Florida have until May 2 to register for the state’s Aug. 26 primary.

For now, Young’s seat appears to be his for the taking. No credible Democrat or Republican has taken the plunge to challenge Young, who had $580,000 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30.

So far, just one Democrat, St. Petersburg-area state Sen. Charlie Justice, appears to be dipping his foot in the electoral waters. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee source confirmed that Justice is seriously considering a challenge to Young and is being heavily recruited by the committee. He met with DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) earlier this year.

Despite Young’s epic tenure, Republican support in the district appears marginal, with President Bush taking just 51 percent of vote during the past two White House elections.

Democrats argue that Young has been largely untested during his 19 terms. Young joked Wednesday that only twice during his 48-year political career has he even had a primary challenger — and only once during his 19 House terms.

The last time Young received less than 65 percent of the vote in the general election was in 1992, when 57 percent of voters picked him over Karen Moffitt (D).

But should Young step aside, Republicans likely would have a deep bench to choose from, further suggesting that Young’s wavering — combined with the Sunshine State’s later filing deadline — may soon chafe GOP leaders desperate to maintain the seat.

Local Republicans potentially in the running: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, state Sen. Dennis Jones, ex-sheriff and state Rep. Everett Rice, former state Speaker Pro Tem Leslise Waters and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard.

Several other Democrats besides Justice would also likely examine the race if Young were to retire.

Although he’s tight-lipped on his 2008 election plans, Young bemoaned the modern-day, never-ending campaign House Members now face, which he said has altered how the chamber conducts business.

“Now, it’s never-ending politicking from on floor … from minus day one,” he said.

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