National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said the upcoming special election in Florida's 13th District will be a
will be a challenging race for the party, but vowed that Republicans will make it a competitive contest.
Last month, GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young's death forced a special election in the Tampa Bay-area seat, making it one of the most competitive House contests in 2014. Operatives from both sides have characterized the March 11 special election as a bellwether contest for the 2014 cycle.
"We all knew that Bill had a special relationship with his constituents in that district, and that district had changed over the years and that when he no longer was serving, that that district would be a competitive district," Walden, an Oregon Republican, told reporters Friday morning at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
A number of Republicans eyed bids for Young's seat, but donors and local officeholders have quickly moved to back lobbyist David Jolly.
Walden said Republicans seem to be coalescing around David Jolly after Young's widow endorsed him earlier this month. But Republican
. But Republican consultant Nick Zoller is also running for the seat, and Walden said the GOP primary field could get more crowded in the coming days.
"The filing deadline has not closed yet," Walden said. "There are a lot of people rallying around Mr. Jolly and there may be others who get in, and our job is that you pick the nominee and we go win the seat."
Whichever Republican emerges from the Jan. 14 special election primary will face likely Democratic nominee Alex Sink.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Sink, a former gubernatorial nominee in Florida, to its Jumpstart program for top recruits last month. Sink's entrance into the contest
. Sink's entrance into the contest led Democratic attorney Jessica Ehrlich to suspend her bid for the seat.
Walden said Republicans are ready to play offense in the contest.
"The interesting thing is Ms. Sink will have some explaining to do about her tenure in Florida," Walden said. "She has to move across the bay to actually show up in the district, which I think has some set of issues associated with it. And so we plan to be on full offense there."
"There's a reason she didn't win the governorship, and we intend on making this a very competitive race," he added.
President Barack Obama carried the 13th District by slim margins in the past two presidential cycles.