1. Florida Politics

Pinellas congressional candidates facing off more in TV ads than in person

The Jolly campaign  canceled appearances this week at two forums it had committed to.
The Jolly campaign canceled appearances this week at two forums it had committed to.
Published Feb. 22, 2014

Their campaigns blast each other with negative ads, but Pinellas County's Democratic and Republican congressional candidates seemed reluctant this week to do something more basic:

Show up together at candidate forums.

The David Jolly campaign canceled appearances this week at two forums it previously committed to — in one case bowing out on the day of the event, according to organizers.

The Alex Sink campaign has already declined to attend either of those events, and has turned down several other invitations for debates or forums.

Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby agreed to both of this week's forums, and said voters ought to have the chance to see the candidates in person, together.

"For me it's really important for all of us to be out in public and give everyone a chance to meet us," he said.

Republican Jolly, Democrat Sink and Overby are candidates in the March 11 special election for Pinellas' open congressional seat. They're running in District 13, which stretches from south Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of southern and downtown St. Petersburg cut out.

All three candidates have agreed to three debates — one was earlier this month and two are scheduled for next week — which is more than in many campaigns. And the candidates individually have scheduled multiple events in which they talk firsthand to voters.

Sink declined, but Jolly and Overby agreed to attend an 11 a.m. forum Sunday at the Centre of Palm Harbor, 1500 16th St., sponsored by the Palm Harbor Area Senior Council. It's outside of the congressional district, but open to anyone.

Two council board members said Jolly's campaign informed them Wednesday he could no longer attend. One of them, Crista Shaw, said she was disappointed, but said others told her "it does happen with politicians, they can change their mind."

The show will go on. Overby still plans to attend and state Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, agreed to step in and speak.

Jolly spokeswoman Sarah Bascom apologized, saying the campaign accidentally double-booked Jolly's time, and regrets the error.

Also this week, a Monday forum at the Westminster Palms retirement center in St. Petersburg was canceled.

Organizer Connie Kone, a resident and former St. Petersburg council member, said she had difficulty getting an answer when she called Sink's campaign. Then she happened to see Sink at an event, and approached her. She said Sink asked if it would be possible to have a coffee event where she would be the only candidate. Later, Kone said, the Sink campaign told her she could not attend the event.

Both Jolly and Overby agreed to attend, Kone said. But then on Monday, the day of the event, the Jolly campaign called to cancel so the decision was made to cancel the event. Overby found out about it around 90 minutes beforehand, and was actually getting in his car to go.

Jolly's spokeswoman Bascom said a family matter came up suddenly, which is why he was not able to make it.

Sink's campaign manager Ashley Walker issued this statement: "Alex's campaign agreed to three joint appearances in January, with all three candidates, and we are looking forward to the two upcoming joint events. Alex meets with voters one-on-one, in groups, and at forums, which all provide different ways for residents to learn about Alex's commitment to bringing bipartisan, results-oriented leadership back to Washington so we can get Congress focused on solving challenges that matter."