On Tuesday, Hayden and Ehrlich met at a Tiger Bay candidate forum held at the St. Petersburg Yacht club, where the first question asked during the Q&A session was if there were any substantive policy differences between the two.
Ehrlich boasted of her inside-the-Beltway experience working with both Republicans and Democrats (she served as a staffer to former South Florida Congressman Clay Shaw and counsel to Massachusetts Representative Stephen Lynch on the Financial Services Committee).
Hayden, a Maryland native who has been extremely active in Pinellas Democratic politics in recent years, said she couldn't really point out any differences as she is just now getting to know Ehrlich's political bent.
Ehrlich is the clear favorite of Democrats outside of St. Petersburg. She's won several major endorsements, and is out-fundraising Hayden by a nearly 8-to-1 margin.
But though she's a native of St. Petersburg, Ehrlich may be less known in the district, having worked in New York and Washington D.C. since leaving the area to attend Vanderbilt University nearly two decades ago. In what appeared to be a "gotcha" question, one Tiger bay member asked what had she done lately for the citizens of Pinellas County?
Ehrlich didn't directly answer, emphasizing her work in Congress and saying that she tended to her ailing father during the 2010 congressional elections.
When the candidates were asked if they would stand behind Barack Obama if they were to win the Democratic nomination this fall, both said they would, with Hayden using the question as an opportunity to hit Ehrlich on being a Washington insider. "I think it’s hard to say you’ll be able to stand up to folks in Washington when you’ve worked with them."
CL recently asked both candidates their opinion of President Obama's decision to support same sex-marriage. Hayden said that, although she doesn't believe in discrimination of any type, personally she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, whereas Ehrlich says she supports same-sex marriage. That response came into play when the former president of the Pinellas County Democrats, Rick Boylan, asked if both candidates supported the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) in the House — a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace in both the public and private sectors.
Ehrlich seized on the opportunity to emphasize her same-sex marriage stance, first by saying she has worked with Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, the author of that legislation. And then she went further, saying, "I am the only candidate in this race that believes there should be equal rights for every single American, regardless of their race, of their religion, of their sexual identity. It is a huge difference in social mores for this area. We have changed as an area...and I am adamantly against any institutional discrimination."
Hayden responded by saying she wasn't sure what Ehrlich meant when she said she was the "only candidate" that believes in equality, "because I do, and I have made that very clear."
"Now I've talked about my personal beliefs," Hayden continued. "My personal belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. But what I've always said is that I don't believe that discrimination should be brought out and morality should be legislated. Nor do I believe that when it comes to adoption and all those types of equal rights including employment discrimination, that discrimination should take place."
When it comes to "bringing home the bacon"(i.e. federal dollars to the district), as Tiger Bay Club member Linda Linda Osmundson referred to it, Bill Young has taken a back seat to nobody on that now somewhat controversial issue. That's one reason he has slayed any Democrat who's dared to challenge him during his 21 previous bids for re-election.
He's also what Tea Party types would call a "porker," and it's why Congress has now stopped such earmarks.
Both Hayden and Ehrlich referred to reports that Young has helped steer millions of dollars to agencies that have employed his family members, an issue that the last Democrat who ran against Young, former state Senator Charlie Justice, employed to little effect.
Ehrlich prefaced her remarks by saying Young had served the area with distinction but "times have changed...the pork doesn't flow the way that it did before."
CL will have more on this Democratic race in our June 21 issue.