For a few moments there last Monday night, Republican congressional candidate David Jolly seemed to be regarding the chap to his left as if he was a misplaced lawn jockey accidentally placed in the middle of a campaign debate.
"My opponent …," Jolly began his opening remarks, intentionally avoiding the plural in referring only to the lady on the opposite end of the dais, Democrat Alex Sink, as he tried to ignore Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby, leaving the man in the middle perhaps feeling like a penny waiting for change.
Jolly seemed to have a few goals to achieve during the debate: A: refer to the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young as often as possible and in reverential terms befitting a Founding Father (would anyone have been surprised if Jolly had shown up wearing a powdered wig?); B: repeatedly cast Sink as a scheming carpetbagger who moved to Pinellas County from the Planet Kalidnoid 7 to steal a congressional seat without so much as an ounce of pure Indian Shores blood flowing through her cold, cruel veins; C: pant like a puppy begging for a tea party chewie and D: dismiss Overby with all the sneering disdain as if the kid had just TP'd his house.
As much as he might wish it was so, Alex Sink isn't David Jolly's problem in the race to succeed Young representing the 13th Congressional District. Lucas Overby is Jolly's husting's crucible to bear — a 27-year-old commercial diver who may be a Libertarian, but he's not your typical third party ideologue.
Is Overby going to win this election? No. But the relative newcomer to Pinellas politics did meet the low bar of expectations Monday night that at least he's not crazy, although we still have more than a month to go until the March 11 special election. Hope springs eternal.
Debates have a way of validating perceptions about a candidate.
On Monday night, Sink worked to hone her image as someone willing to forge bipartisan consensus on issues, pledged to make sorting out the FEMA-created flood insurance debacle as her first priority and dodged a potential "gotcha" interloper question by demonstrating she is familiar with local beaches and the Pinellas Trail. Debate prep — always a good idea.
But has she ever had a grouper sandwich at the Hurricane?
As pols go, they don't come any smoother or silkier than David Jolly, the stump's answer to a human polished wing tip. Every hair in place, nary a wrinkle to be found on his crisply tailored suit and a practiced manner somewhere between Downton Abbey meets the maitre d' at the 21 Club.
In the debate, Jolly said he would repeal Obamacare, fudged on committing to what a fair minimum wage should be, hedged on gay marriage, believed the United States should have used military force in Syria and painted himself as a champion of liberty. Too bad Jolly isn't running to be the congressman from the Villages.
Pinellas County is a deep purple land and it has rarely embraced (for very long) extreme politics on either end of the political spectrum. Most conventional wisdom suggests no matter who prevails in the March 11 election that the final tally of votes will be close.
Enter the walking spoiler alert — Master Lucas Overby.
On Monday night Overby came off as a self-possessed, articulate young man not the least bit intimidated by sharing the stage with two veteran, experienced politicians. You might not agree with his views on every issue, but more importantly — and problematic for Jolly — at least Overby didn't scare anyone.
In an election expected to be as narrow as this one, Overby could well siphon just enough votes from Jolly to make a difference in the final count.
Irony abounds. Recent numbers indicate $2.6 million has been spent on television ads promoting Alex Sink. David Jolly's campaign has pulled in about $1.6 million.
And in the end the race could well be decided by a newbie politician who has amassed a whopping $27,000 war chest.
Oh, one unsolicited piece of political advice for Overby — if you participate in another televised debate can you please shave beforehand?
Or don't Libertarians believe in razors?