Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub has decided not to run for Pinellas County's open congressional seat and said he's supporting someone who has yet to enter the race — state Rep. Kathleen Peters.
Ayoub's decision came as candidate David Jolly continued to gather momentum, money and supporters in the race to win the Republican nomination to the seat left vacant by the death of longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
Jolly picked up support on Wednesday from state Sen. Jeff Brandes and retired Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, who was commanding general of Florida's National Guard. Jolly also has assembled a potent financial team that includes Ambassador Mel Sembler, once finance chairman for the Republican National Committee.
Of Jolly, Ayoub said, "I don't think it makes sense to send a lobbyist to Washington to fix things."
He also said he has heard other Republicans make statements like, "We don't elect by coronation."
Ayoub's comments indicate the Republican Party may still face a primary election battle in this hastily called special election: the primary is Jan. 14 and the general election March 11.
Peters has said she is considering a run. Ayoub said Wednesday that he believes she will get into the race. She could not be reached Wednesday.
Ayoub said he was intrigued by the possibility of running for the seat, which extends from the southern tip of Pinellas County to Dunedin, with a swath of southern and downtown St. Petersburg left out. Many encouraged him to run.
Ultimately, he decided, "my heart's still in Safety Harbor."
Peters, a Republican and former mayor of South Pasadena, "has years of experience representing the people of her district," Ayoub said.
Jolly is a Washington lobbyist who also was a longtime aide and general counsel to Young, and has been endorsed by Young's widow Beverly. Since 2006 he has lived in Indian Shores and commuted to Washington for work.
Jolly has stressed his Pinellas roots and pointed out that for virtually his entire career — even when living in the Washington area and working for Young — he worked intimately on projects designed to help Pinellas County.
"I think we can do better than David Jolly," said Ayoub, who doesn't know Jolly personally.
In response, Jolly said he has nothing but respect for both Ayoub and Peters.
"This race is about ensuring someone from Pinellas is elected to represent Pinellas," he said. "I look forward to working with everyone in our party and our county over the course of this campaign."
It appears all but certain that the Democratic Party will avoid a primary. Alex Sink, a former Florida chief financial officer and Democratic candidate for governor, is seeking the seat and amassing her own lineup of endorsements and contributions. Jolly has criticized her as an outsider. She plans to move from Hillsborough County to Pinellas County in order to run.
Libertarian Lucas Overby also is running.
Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.