ST. PETERSBURG — David Jolly has never met Donald Trump.
So when the incumbent Republican congressman saw an image Tuesday night that depicted him shaking hands with Trump flicker across a TV screen while attending an event at Bella Brava restaurant, he did a double-take.
"Not only have I never met Donald Trump," Jolly said Wednesday. "I don't own a red-and-white striped tie."
The 30-second TV spot shows several images that depict Jolly standing next to Trump. But they're all fabricated: Software was used to superimpose Jolly's head over whoever was actually meeting Trump, making them seem buddy-buddy.
However, Jolly has long criticized Trump, the Republican nominee for president, and has said he won't vote for him. But that didn't stop the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from creating the ad and adding more fire to the already contentious race in the 13th Congressional District.
That crosses a legal line, Jolly said. His attorneys wrote to local television stations, demanding they stop showing the ad because it portrays a false and misleading message.
"Consider this as a notice that your station is currently airing a patently false advertisement," wrote Roger N. Beaubien, a partner with the Coates Law Firm in Tallahassee, to Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8.
Jolly threatened to sue local TV stations if they don't take the commercial down.
The 30-second ad uses the word "dramatization" whenever the faked photos appear. But that doesn't cut it, wrote Beaubien: "Simply including the word 'dramatization' does not allow an advertiser to display fraudulent images."
DCCC lawyers said the ad was clearly a dramatization.
"It is clear from both the context of the ad and the accompanying disclaimer that the images are not real, but are used to depict what the future might look like if voters support Representative Jolly's candidacy. There is no risk of confusion on this point," wrote Daniel Nudelman and Aria Branch of the PerkinsCoie law firm in Washington, D.C. The DCCC told stations to continue airing the ad.
Jolly's opponent in the 13th district, which covers Pinellas County from its southern tip to Clearwater, is former Gov. Charlie Crist. His campaign didn't back down from linking Jolly to Trump.
"While Gov. Crist long ago denounced Donald Trump, only David Jolly has recently said he 'has a lot of respect for Trump' and supports his extreme agenda on women's choice," said Kevin Cate, a Crist consultant.
Jolly made those comments in August 2015, before Trump's most recent controversial utterances came to light. During that same discussion, Jolly also criticized Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again," saying that the United States was already the greatest country in the world.
Jolly has since condemned Trump, most recently in the wake of video surfacing of Trump making crude remarks about women.
Ads from Crist and the DCCC have saturated local airwaves in the past few weeks. The DCCC has reserved $1.5 million to support Crist. Jolly isn't getting similar help from his own party.
Jolly said it was ironic that Democrats were trying to link him with Trump when Crist has golfed and dined with the real estate tycoon. Crist even once gave Trump a Florida-shaped birthday cake, Jolly said.
Republican support for Trump has become a national issue. But Jolly said that so far Crist has remained silent on the issue.
"What is he trying to hide?" Jolly asked reporters at a news conference Wednesday. "There must be more to the story."
In January 2014, Jolly said, he told his party's equivalent, the National Republican Congressional Committee, to stop airing a false ad about his then-opponent, Alex Sink.
Crist, the congressman said, should do the same.
Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.