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  1. Florida Politics

Adam C. Smith: 5 reasons David Jolly should run for U.S. Senate

David Jolly makes a point, February 25, 2014, during the debate at the Capitol Theater in Clearwater. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
David Jolly makes a point, February 25, 2014, during the debate at the Capitol Theater in Clearwater. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jul. 14, 2015

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, is likely to jump into Florida's wide-open 2016 U.S. Senate race next Monday or Tuesday. Neither he nor anyone on his team is confirming that he has decided to run — Jolly is not someone who dreads the prospect of simply returning to the private sector — but running for Senate clearly is the logical move.

Here are five reasons Jolly should run:

1. He has little other choice. If Jolly enjoys public service in Washington, and he does, the Senate may be his only choice. Nobody knows for sure how Congressional District 13 will be redrawn — or when — but the options are limited because it is a peninsula.

The main question is whether the district winds up strongly Democratic or overwhelmingly Democratic. He might be able to win in a strongly Democratic District 13, but not an overwhelmingly Democratic one. And he doesn't have the luxury of waiting on the new lines before he starts building a statewide campaign.

2. Losing can be a step toward winning. Sure, Jolly might lose, but he's smart and capable, so it's unlikely he would seriously damage himself in the process. If Jolly loses, he will have built up his name ID and a statewide network, then be well-positioned for 2018 when five statewide offices are up for election. (U.S. Senate, governor, attorney general, CFO, agriculture commissioner).

3. Jolly can win. The Republican primary has no heavy favorite. Jolly is the only one with a Tampa Bay base, where at least one in four primary voters hail from. What's more, he is well-positioned to be seen as the most electable alternative to tea party favorite Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach (likely to be well-funded from conservative national groups).

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera are credible candidates, but Lopez-Cantera has plenty of baggage for critics to attack, and Miller can easily be painted as a creature of Washington. More mainstream Republican groups that are worried about DeSantis' general election appeal stand to pump a lot of money into a candidate they see as a winner, and Jolly is best-equipped. We don't know yet whether first-time candidate Todd Wilcox is viable.

4. The general election looks promising, too. Alan Grayson's entry into the Democratic primary ensures that the candidate most Republicans greatly fear — U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy — will emerge wounded from the primary, if he survives at all. U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, could get in, too, but she and Murphy more or less occupy the same moderate, independent-minded space in the Democratic primary.

5. Jolly may be best to represent all of Florida. One sad irony of the Florida Supreme Court's anti-gerrymandering ruling on the state's congressional districts is that a rare, truly competitive District 13 will likely became a safe Democratic seat. Jolly hasn't served long in the House, but this swing district ensures that he usually has no choice but to look out for his constituents first and his party second. No other Republican in the mix understands swing district (or state) politics as well as Jolly.

Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.