CLEARWATER — Perhaps he didn't mean to rough up a fellow Republican, but U.S. Senate candidate David Jolly ripped apart Marco Rubio on Monday.
"If you're holding a current office and running for another office you should be under extremely strict ethical scrutiny in terms of whether or not you're doing the job to which you were elected," U.S. Rep. Jolly told a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon crowd when asked about politicians running for one public office while holding another. "For somebody that fails that test, well, then they don't deserve to be elected — either to the office they're seeking or to the office they currently hold."
Jolly, R-Indian Shores, never mentioned anyone by name, but he might as well have been talking about Rubio, who has been facing pointed questions on the presidential campaign trail for having one of the worst voting records in the U.S. Senate. PolitiFact noted recently that Rubio had missed the most votes between January and Sept. 16, though fellow presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas actually has a worse absentee rate — 11.3 percent of votes missed, compared with 10.9 percent for Rubio — when their entire Senate careers are considered.
Jolly, 42, supports Jeb Bush for president, but told the Tampa Bay Times he did not intend to criticize Florida's junior senator, whose job he is seeking.
"I wish I saw Marco voting more in the Senate, but that's a decision for him to make," said Jolly, vowing to miss few votes while running for Senate because "my first responsibility is to serve in the House of Representatives."
Rubio has faced questions about his attendance records several times in recent weeks, particularly from Donald Trump, and makes no apologies.
"I've figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C., in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people," the Miami Republican told Sean Hannity in a radio interview last month. "That's why I'm missing votes, because I am leaving the Senate. I'm not running for re-election, and I'm running for president because I know this: Unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential."
Jolly was elected in a 2014 special election to fill the unexpired term of his old boss, the late C.W. Bill Young. The Pinellas congressional seat is one of the country's most politically competitive, but Jolly announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate after the Florida Supreme Court ordered legislators to redraw several congressional districts. Jolly's district is expected to be redrawn leaning heavily Democratic.
Other Republicans running for the Senate are Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, and little-known defense contractor Todd Wilcox. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater last week said he is reconsidering a run and Jolly lamented that Atwater had left many Republicans "at the altar" by suddenly changing his mind earlier this year about running.
Democratic consultant Gregory Wilson reminded Jolly of that quote and asked if he were doing the same by running for the Senate so soon after winning the congressional seat. He would have preferred to continue serving in the U.S. House, Jolly said, but then the Florida Supreme Court effectively turned his 50/50 district into one "that virtually every person in the political sphere will tell you no Republican can win."
He noted that his Congressional District 13 was one of the few in the country where representatives have to consider the interests of their constituents first, and their political party second. Florida as a whole is similarly divided, he said, and he would hope to bring to the U.S. Senate the same mind-set he brought to Congress.
"We need to get back to responsible governing," Jolly said, suggesting he is fighting "for the soul of the Republican Party. … The bottom line: We need to reset a lot of the vitriolic rhetoric you hear today, and elect people who understand they're elected to hold the public trust."
Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.