Voters in Pinellas County shouldn’t have much difficulty deciding who they want to replace the late C.W. Bill Young in Congress for at least the next few months.

The candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives District 13 seat made it clear in a Bay News 9 / Tampa Bay Times debate Monday night they would go to Washington with vastly different approaches.

Republican David Jolly, a former aide and general council of Young, didn’t sidestep his social conservatism and hammered on his promise to fight for lower taxes, smaller government and a balanced budget.

Democrat Alex Sink, the former Florida chief financial officer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate, contrasted herself as a progressive and unifier who would work to end the gridlock in Washington while supporting many of the policies of President Obama.

The debate, which also included Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby, had questions on a wide variety of topics of local, state and national importance. Jolly and Sink agreed that Social Security and Medicare should be protected – no surprise, since 27 percent of the district’s voters are 66 or older – and disagreed on most everything else.

Both said solutions are needed for the soaring flood insurance rates, although Jolly seemed to say private insurers could play a bigger role.

Jolly said his approach would include diversifying the risk pool across all regions and all natural disasters, “from earthquakes to tornadoes to snow to floods.”

Sink said she has already reached out to insurance company executives, reinsurers, insurance agents and realtors to gain a better understanding the problem and have come up with solutions that she has posted on her website.

Differing views on Obamacare

Jolly said he would repeal Obamacare, while Sink, acknowledging that it has “not been perfect,” said she would work within it to make it better.

“How do you go back and explain that we’re going to go back to denying people (coverage) for pre-existing conditions?” Sink said in opposing repeal. “Or explain to seniors that they’re exposed to that horrendous donut hole that put seniors in bankruptcy.”

Jolly said problems with the old health care system should be addressed, but government shouldn’t “interfere with one-seventh of our economy.”

“Look, it was founded on a promise that now has been called the lie of the year,” Jolly said, referring to Obama’s vow that those happy with their health insurance would be able to keep it. “How a candidate can defend Obamacare is beside me.”

Jolly said yes to a balanced budget amendment, no to light rail in Pinellas County (“it’s a tax”) and no to immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

“We are a loving and caring nation, but we are also a nation of laws,” he said. “It is important that those who’ve broken the law recognize that.”

Sink said no to a balanced budget amendment, yes to light rail and argued for the bipartisan Senate plan for immigration reform.

On legalizing medical marijuana, Jolly said no and Sink said she supports it for those who need it medicinally but “I am not going to support a constitutional amendment if it provides for pot shops on every corner in Florida.”

Little agreement on social issues

On social issues, Jolly said legalizing gay marriage should be a state issue, while Sink said she supports it. Jolly said he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and Sink said “absolutely not.”

Jolly repeated his campaign narrative that he, as a native and longtime resident of Pinellas County, is bettered suited to represent District 13 than the longtime Hillsborough resident Sink.

“I respect the fact that Alex wants to change Washington,” he said. “I think she should have done that from Thonotosassa and run against Dennis Ross, her Congressman.”

Sink cited her numerous endorsements from local officials and said her political values “are very well aligned with the people of Pinellas County.” She noted that she has on

Pinellas County matters “for 25 years in business through banking, through serving on boards through and my charitable work.”

Overby, who is running as a political outsider, took his strongest stance when the candidates were asked if they would have supported more aggressive military action in Syria after the war there began in 2011.

“I think we’ve set a terrible precedent in the past, continually going into other nations and meddling in debates between their people their governments,” Overby said in answering no.

“A Conversation with the Candidates” was mostly civil, if somewhat dry, and ended with Jolly adopting Sink’s more collaborative tone.

“I admire Alex for her spirit of bipartisanship as something we share,” he said. “I had the opportunity to work alongside Mr. Young, who taught us, you can take your core conviction to Washington and recognize that you still have a responsibility to work with Republicans, Libertarians, Independents and Democrats.”

The came five weeks before the special election to fill the seat for District 13, which extends from south Pinellas to Dunedin, minus parts of southern and downtown St. Petersburg.

Young served in Congress for more than 40 years until his death in October and was an icon in the area.

Moderators Al Ruechel of Bay News 9 and Adam Smith and Amy Hollyfield of the Times kept the forum moving, gently  chastising candidates when they want long and cutting them off on a couple of occasions.

A capacity crowd of about 200 people attended the program at St. Pete College’s Seminole campus, and it was televised live locally by Bay News 9 and nationally by CSPAN3. It will be shown by Bay News 9 Sunday at 11:30 a.m.