The former secretary of the U.S. Navy stood before 100 people at the St. Petersburg Marriott on Roosevelt Boulevard and urged them to deploy all their friends for Republican congressional candidate David Jolly.
"You have to help him get people out and vote," Gordon R. England said at a fundraiser for Jolly this week, "and frankly, it also takes money."
Jolly's fundraiser showed that he is making military issues a significant theme in his campaign, and not just because of the featured speaker.
Although Pinellas County is not especially known as a military community, Jolly told the crowd it is home to a "national security triangle" that consists of veterans, active-duty military and the local defense companies.
The late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, with powerful seniority after 43 years in Congress and a keen interest in the military, was credited with helping to grow the local defense industry into a significant economic base.
Jolly told the group that Young, his former boss, "understood like no other member of Congress you can provide for the men and women in uniform, you can provide them with the technology and tools they need ... but while doing so you can also provide for the workforce here at home."
Jolly said neither he nor any other candidate will wield as much seniority as Young, "but we can elect somebody who knows how to get things done."
Young died in October, and Jolly is among the candidates seeking to win his seat in a special election.
Three candidates are running for the Republican nomination for the seat in a special Jan. 14 primary. All three — Jolly, state Rep. Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher — say military issues are important.
Peters said she worked hard to help Clearwater achieve a designation as a "Coast Guard city." Bircher is a Naval Academy graduate, former Blue Angels pilot and retired brigadier general from the Marine Corps reserve.
Jolly said he worked to form a local federal contractors association, which helps military and other businesses learn how to get federal contracts. He also stressed his close work with Young on military issues.
Young chaired a powerful defense appropriations subcommittee and also was known for championing veterans issues along with his wife, Beverly.
"Bill Young was the military guy in the U.S. Congress," England said after the Wednesday event. "Of course, David was with him."
Jerry Lavely, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who was based at Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, also attended the event and spoke highly of Jolly.
"I see veterans groups coming out of the woodwork that want to support him," he said.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Scott Neil, who also was stationed at Special Operations Command, said he met Jolly while attending a social event with Lavely. Jolly later met with him several times to discuss his ideas for launching his own businesses, as well as on transitioning out of the military.
Although Jolly was active with the contractors association, these meetings were informal and personal, he said. As a result, he said, "I'm very dedicated and loyal to somebody who took their time."
The winner of the Jan. 14 primary will run against Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby. The 13th Congressional District stretches from South Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of southern and downtown St. Petersburg cut out.