Democrat Alex Sink has decided not to run for Congress this fall, a move that could benefit newly elected Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
Sink told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that she made a "very personal" choice against running after weighing several factors.
"I was certainly all in for the special election and at this point in time I just made the decision that I did not want to run again."
Jolly narrowly defeated Sink in the nationally watched and costly March 11 special election held after Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young's death in October.
Although Sink lost, she was still considered a strong candidate for the fall, given her wide name recognition and proven fundraising ability. Her exit leaves it unclear which Democrat will step in to run against Jolly.
Jessica Ehrlich, who previously ran for the seat against Young but bowed out of the race earlier to make room for Sink, did not return calls Tuesday. Earlier this week, the Rev. Manuel Sykes of St. Petersburg, a Democrat, said he was considering a bid. The deadline to file is May 2.
"I have great respect for Alex," Jolly said in a statement. "I'm sure it was a difficult decision and I wish her the very best. I look forward to continuing my work in Congress on behalf our Pinellas community."
Sink said Democratic officials showed her an analysis of election trends and "the numbers actually looked better than I anticipated."
She said 50,000 more people may vote in the fall, and "there will be many more independents and they will probably be a little younger."
Those are some of the reasons she believes a Democratic candidate can win in the fall, even though she is the candidate who likely would have commanded the biggest name recognition and Jolly will have an incumbent's advantage.
When asked about the effect of "Obamacare" on her earlier campaign, Sink said "it was obviously a factor. The Republicans were playing nonstop negative ads."
But now, she said, there has been news about millions of people successfully signing up for health coverage.
"If the election was held today, we'd probably have a different result," she said. But when pressed, she said there were too many factors to know if this alone would have meant victory.
Asked about her future plans, she said, "I am going to be out and about in Pinellas County."
Does that mean she'll continue to live in Pinellas, rather than in her other home in Hillsborough County? "That's my current plan," she said.
And what about running for the same congressional seat in 2016?
She had two answers.
First: "I've learned that particularly in politics, and in life, never to say never."
Second: By that time, she expects the incumbent to already be a Democrat.
The recent Jolly-Sink election was only for residents of Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District, but was inescapable to anyone with a television or radio in the Tampa Bay area. Outside groups poured millions of dollars into the race.
In the special election, Jolly hammered Sink for supporting Obamacare and as someone who favors expanding the federal government. He touted his own experience as a longtime aide to Young.
Sink slammed Jolly for his previous career as a Washington lobbyist and claimed he wanted to undermine Social Security and Medicare. She pointed to her own background as a bank executive and elected chief financial officer.
Jolly, in his first high-profile vote since the election, became one of 12 Republicans to vote against the conservative Ryan budget plan last week. The budget plan would make fundamental changes to Medicare, and Jolly said during his recent campaign that it wouldn't be fair to change the rules for people who have been told for years they would get the benefits of the program. "I simply kept my word," he said.