Published: Apr 12, 2010 10:00 AM EDT

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The GOP challenger in Tuesday's special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler says he's banking on the public's disdain for President Barack Obama's health care bill and low congressional approval ratings to deliver an upset to his Democratic opponent, widely seen as the front-runner.

The contest between Democratic state Sen. Ted Deutch and Republican Ed Lynch will be the country's first U.S House race of 2010.

Wexler, a seven-term Democrat from Boca Raton, resigned in January to lead a Middle East think tank. He was hugely popular in District 19, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, and has more than twice as many registered Democrats than Republican — 234,000 to about 111,000.

But Lynch, a 44-year-old contractor, says he aims to make the election a referendum on Obama and the president's massive health care bill in a district where seniors make up about 40 percent of the electorate.

"Seniors understand that this is a broken promise," Lynch said. He wants the bill repealed.

Deutch, also 44, supports the health care legislation.

"It's the first time that Congress has actually stood up to the health insurance companies on behalf of consumers," he said. "It helps the seniors I represent right now."

He also said he would have voted for Obama's stimulus bill, even though it was "somewhat flawed" by not pumping more money into the economy faster, but it stopped the bleeding.

Lynch, who narrowly beat his GOP challenger in the Feb. 2 primary, said the stimulus bill has weakened the economy and failed to create the needed jobs.

On immigration, Lynch is against any form of amnesty for illegal immigrants, supports mandating English as the national language and believes the U.S. should clear all its prisons of those who are in America illegally and send them back to their native countries.

Deutch said he supports securing the borders and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, but there needs to be a program for those already here.

"It's not amnesty," Deutch said. "There are 11 or 12 million people who are here illegally. It's not reasonable or humane to think we're going to round up 12 million people and put them on a barge out of the country."

Lynch, a concealed weapons permit holder, said, "I'm a proud supporter of the Second Amendment," guaranteeing Americans' rights to own guns. Deutch said he supports the Second Amendment, but believes there should be limitations.

"It's appropriate to limit certain types of dangerous assault and military weapons," he said.

Lynch calls Obama's strategy in Iraq "moronic." The U.S. military plans to reduce troop levels from 90,000 to 50,000 by Aug. 31, when it will end combat operations. As part of an agreement with Iraq, the U.S. will withdraw all forces by the end of 2011.

"You don't telegraph a plan for withdrawal to your enemies," he said. Deutch supports the president's timetable.

Deutch said he's not worried about the political climate in Washington heading into Tuesday's election.

"People are going to the polls to elect their representative in Congress and they want someone who is going to stand up for them, who is going to be effective and deliver results," he said. "That's what this campaign was about when I got into it, and I don't think anything has changed."

Lynch and Deutch also face no-party candidate Jim McCormick.