INDIAN SHORES — Declaring himself "a Bill Young Republican," David Jolly officially kicked off his congressional campaign on Thursday, the same day that two other strong potential GOP candidates decided to bow out.
And although Jolly has spent much of his career working in Washington as an aide to the late congressman, Jolly launched his bid in front of the Indian Shores municipal building by declaring: "This race is about ensuring that somebody from Pinellas County is elected to represent our communities and our neighbors."
And, he added, with Young's widow Beverly standing near him, "We're going to win this race."
His "Pinellas County" comment was a direct jab at Alex Sink, the state's former chief financial officer who is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. She is in the process of moving from eastern Hillsborough County to run in the Pinellas County district.
Jolly later told a reporter he had not met Sink: "I haven't had a reason to; she doesn't live here."
But some have characterized Jolly himself as an outsider — just this week Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala said, "I really don't think the timing is right for a Washington lobbyist to move to our district and run for Congress."
Jolly responds that he was born in Dunedin, his mother grew up in Pinellas, and he has lived in Indian Shores since 2006. He also worked on numerous Pinellas issues during his time as an aide and general counsel to Young.
"I do not come from means," he said, and told a story about how his mother married his father, a pastor who served at a Clearwater church.
Jolly was introduced Thursday by Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence, who called him a friend and thanked him for his service on local boards.
He also was joined by Mark Lunsford, who said Jolly helped him learn how to focus his efforts to get legislation passed in multiple states that has strengthened penalties against child sex offenders. "It was hard to learn how to do these things," said Lunsford, whose daughter Jessica was abducted and killed by a pedophile in Citrus County.
Lunsford said he met Jolly in an airport, and he offered his help. "David made it possible for good things to happen," he said.
Beverly Young, wearing a "support the Troops" T-shirt, also endorsed Jolly, saying he had the knowledge to get things done for Pinellas and that her husband wanted Jolly to carry on his legacy. Their son Patrick also appeared at the news conference. Another son, Bill Young II, who considered running for the seat himself, did not.
Earlier Thursday, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard both said they would not seek the Republican nomination to the seat. Both cited a combination of personal and professional reasons but left open the possibility of running in the future.
Pinellas Republican Chairman Michael Guju said he doubted Jolly would face a primary opponent and that local party activists will unite behind him.
"He's got a lot of party support, a lot of institutional support, and he knows a lot of people in Washington D.C.," Guju said. "You have someone who grew up here, who lives here, and works here, versus someone who barely knows where the county is."
Former Pinellas commissioner Neil Brickfield has been seriously considering a run for the nomination and said he'll make an announcement soon.
The primary will be Jan. 14, followed by a general election March 11. Libertarian Lucas Overby also is running.