Kathleen Peters not ready to endorse David Jolly

Published Jan. 16, 2014

The day after David Jolly won the Republican nomination for Pinellas County's open congressional seat, his next-closest rival said she was still not ready to endorse him.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters voiced reservations about Jolly and his past work as a Washington lobbyist, describing her party as weakened because of lingering questions of trust between Jolly and voters in the 13th Congressional District.

"It's nothing personal about him," she said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in Tallahassee, where she had legislative meetings. "He is a nice man. He's a professional. I have nothing but good things to say about him."

But, she added, "I'm concerned with just the job that he's had." She said it might "weigh heavily on the voters, to have a lobbyist who represents special interests, to now say that they're going to represent the people and be able to separate that.

"Is there going to be trust there? That's been my concern all along, and that's where I think we're going to be weakened," Peters said.

Peters said Jolly has a responsibility to reassure voters "that he can make that shift and that transition to truly represent the people of Pinellas County and their interests and their agenda versus a special interest agenda."

Jolly has previously said his experience as a lobbyist in Washington — combined with his work as a congressional aide, lawyer and consultant — would help him be effective in Washington on behalf of Pinellas citizens.

Still, it was not quite the picture of unity Republican leaders had hoped for in this highly competitive special election in which Democratic candidate Alex Sink holds a sizable fundraising advantage. Voters on March 11 will select Jolly, Sink or Libertarian Lucas Overby to replace U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October.

Some other people who might be expected to back the new Republican nominee had not done so yet. They included three backers of Peters — Pinellas Sheriff Robert Gualtieri, state Rep. Ed Hooper and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a former aide to Young.

All three said Wednesday afternoon that they had not yet been asked. "If he asks for my endorsement, I'm going to give it to him," Hooper said.

Jolly did get the backing of some other Peters supporters. Bill Young II, a son of the late congressman, showed up at Jolly's election party 15 minutes after polls closed to show his support.

So did former Pinellas Commissioner Neil Brickfield.

"I think the party is 100 percent united behind David Jolly, and I know I'm going to do everything I can to help him get elected," he said. "Alex Sink is too liberal for Pinellas."

Jolly said in an interview that he would contact all those officials and more. He said he took a little personal time Wednesday and then fielded many phone calls, including ones from House Speaker John Boehner and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"I intend to reach out to every voter in Pinellas County, including the elected officials," he said.

As for Peters, he said, "Kathleen and I had a good conversation earlier (Wednesday) and we did agree that Alex Sink is not the right candidate."

In addition to hundreds of phone calls he said he needs to make soon, Jolly was poised to debate Sink.

"If there's an opportunity to engage with Alex every day on questions of policy and issues, I'd like to do that," he said.

Pinellas Republican Party Chairman Michael Guju said he was sure the party would come together behind Jolly.

"It's been less than 24 hours, goodness gracious," Guju said. He said "political campaigns are very emotional, high-strung events" and it's not always easy for candidates to turn around and endorse each other immediately.

Nonetheless, he said, "I am sure that all three candidates in the Republican primary will come together and march in unison to electing the Republican nominee for this office."

Peters described Sink as a "very formidable" candidate. She also said part of the reason she lost was that Jolly had a head start building grass roots support and raising money, plus support from Young's widow, Beverly.

Jolly won 45 percent of the vote, compared with 31 percent for Peters and 24 percent for Mark Bircher, who said Tuesday night that he is supporting Jolly.