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David Jolly, Alex Sink in dead heat before Monday debate

It's a common refrain among Republican politicos, and it has to drive David Jolly nuts: Republicans can win the special election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young in Congress, but Democrats have to win it to have any hope at capturing a majority in the U.S. House. Makes it sound like the race may not be as much of a priority for the GOP as it is for Nancy Pelosi.

House Speaker John Boehner even said it to Republican members last week when Jolly went to Washington to speak to them. The common narrative to this special election is largely accurate: Democrats recruited an A-list candidate in Alex Sink, while the GOP A-listers took a pass and Republicans wound up with an obscure rookie for a nominee.

That's true, but both sides agree Sink vs. Jolly is a dead-heat race at this point, even as Sink lately has overwhelmingly outspent Jolly on TV ads.

Excuse the promotion, but all this makes Monday's Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 debate (live on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m.) a potentially pivotal moment in the campaign. Non-Brighthouse customers can watch it live on CSPAN 3.

This is a nationally watched race where partisan groups working separately from Sink and Jolly could really make the difference, and recent TV ad buys by outside Republican groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS suggest the GOP establishment is starting to realize how much the seat is within its grasp to maintain.

Since mid January, Democrats have bought more than $3 million in TV time to help Sink, while Republicans have bought more than $1 million to help Jolly.

Libertarian Lucas Overby will also be in Monday's debate.

Latvala interviewed

Check out state House candidate Chris Latvala on Political Connections today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Accounting for travel

The National Republican Congressional Committee is airing a TV ad hitting Sink for her use of a state plane while she was Florida CFO: "She used the taxpayer-funded plane so she could get to a vacation in the Bahamas," the ad says of Sink, who reimbursed the state $17,000 for flights after the Times/Herald wrote about them.

But Republican rival Jolly isn't touching that Bahamas plane attack: "We sent out a mailing and I said to our people I don't want anything about her trip to the Bahamas on my mailing. The NRCC wants to do that, but we're not doing that," Jolly said. "I understand there is some nuance to it —­ the fact that she took the plane from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and then took her own flight to get to the Bahamas."

As a former aide to the late Rep. Young, Jolly is no stranger to taxpayer-funded flights himself. Federal records show that between 2003 and 2005, he flew overseas to Italy, France, Britain, Spain, Belgium, Austria and Crete at a cost to taxpayers of more than $7,100. Between 1998 and 2006, he spent more than $38,000 traveling between Washington and Florida.

"It was all official business," said Jolly who accompanied Young on delegation trips to Defense Department facilities across the world and frequently traveled to the congressional district as part of his job.

And while he's not knocking Sink for the Bahamas trip, Jolly says criticism for her using a state plane to get to and from political events, as she did, is fair game.

"The issue on Alex was that it was political affairs, not official business," he said. "Every single one of (my trips) were authorized government travel. If we threw in all of the authorized government travel for Alex, I'm sure there'd be a thousand times more."

More than an apology

When NBC Miami aired a news segment with a graphic that mistakenly called the state GOP the "Reprehensive Party of Florida," the state party issued a strong statement demanding an apology. The party got the expression of contrition promptly Friday from NBC ­— and from the media company that put the news package together, Tallahassee-based Capitol News Service. The company's boss, Mike Vasilinda, said he went a step further.

"The person responsible for this has been fired," he said. "We take this very seriously." He also issued an apology on his website.

Marc Caputo and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.

Winner of the week

Omar Khan. Almost as soon as we reported that Charlie Crist had hired the former USF student body president and Obama campaign staffer as his campaign manager, we were flooded with messages from Democrats raving about Khan. "I love him. He loves Florida," Crist said. "He's coming home to help us put the people back in charge."

Loser of the week

Trey Radel. The Fort Myers congressman finally realized that when one is widely dubbed "the cocaine congressman" after a coke bust, the only option is to resign.

David Jolly, Alex Sink in dead heat before Monday debate

02/01/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 1, 2014 10:22pm]
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