- Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The three candidates seeking to replace the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young participated in a short, polite debate on public television Friday.

Republican David Jolly, Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby answered questions and briefly queried one another during the third and final debate of the campaign.

The candidates talked about the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, campaign finance reform and the Cuba trade embargo.

The Affordable Care Act was the main topic and came up in the first five minutes. Jolly said the act should be repealed, and Sink said it should be fixed.

Political experts say that this election is a test case for whether the act will be a major issue in the midterm elections, and Republicans especially are road-testing strategy in this race.

Millions of dollars have been spent in this race by both Democrats and Republicans. Residents in the district sometimes receive two or three fliers a day from the parties and political action groups, and ads have blanketed the airwaves. The special election is March 11.

As of early February, the National Republican Congressional Committee was spending more than $200,000 on television ads opposing Sink, in addition to three Republican groups plowing $1.2 million into the race. Democrats, meanwhile, have reserved more than $2.5 million in advertising, mostly aimed at criticizing Jolly’s time as a lobbyist.

Absentee ballots seem to hold no clues about who is winning. According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, 193,806 ballots were mailed. As of Feb. 27, 42 percent of the ballots that were returned so far were from Republicans, 40 percent were from Democrats and 19 percent were registered to “other” political parties.

The three are seeking to fill the term of Young, who died last year. Democrats are hopeful that this will be the year that they wrest the seat out of the hands of Republicans in the swing-voting district. Young, a Republican, was in office for more than 40 years.

During the one spark in the debate - when the candidates were able to ask questions of one another - Sink asked Jolly about his stand on Roe v. Wade and paying women equal pay for equal work.

Jolly said Sink has “misrepresented” his views on the topic in advertisements and statements. He said that he “embraces” exceptions for abortion that include rape, incest or to save the life of the mother and said gender discrimination in wages should be illegal.

After the debate, Overby and Jolly met with reporters and Jolly expanded on his abortion comments, saying that he is anti-abortion and would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

Sink did not speak with reporters after the debate.

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