Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Charlie Crist and David Jolly: two nice guys in a not-so-nice congressional race

Charlie Crist and David Jolly were two of the nicest politicians in the bay area.

Then they ran against each other in the 13th Congressional District.

Jolly is the Republican incumbent, but also the underdog ever since court-ordered redrawn boundaries left the Pinellas County district with 20,293 more Democrats than Republicans.

He has made it clear that he doesn't like Crist. Last year, when Crist announced he was running for Congress, Jolly showed up just to troll him. Ever since, Jolly has portrayed Crist — a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat — as an untrustworthy political opportunist.

Jolly's ire has only been fueled by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's TV ad using faked images to portray Jolly as a good friend of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Jolly, though, has disavowed Trump.

While Crist has no trouble letting others throw haymakers for him, he has stayed out of the fray, saying he'll bring civility back to Washington, D.C..

That theme — the Trump ally versus the opportunist — has dominated the race far more than the issues have.

Both campaigns have sought to bury the other with Trump.

On Aug. 30, the night Jolly won the Republican primary, the Crist campaign put out its first release trying to link Jolly, who has said he has never met Trump, to the real estate mogul.

Jolly struck back with a torrent of news releases, showing a smiling Crist with Trump and detailing their history of political donations and meetings.

And then came the DCCC's Trump ad in October. Jolly called a news conference and demanded the ad stop running. His lawyer fired off a letter to local TV stations. The DCCC said it clearly labeled it as a dramatization. It ran for most of October.

At first, Crist defended the DCCC's right to run the ad, then called for it to be taken down — right before it was scheduled to cycle off TV screens. Jolly went after Crist even harder.

"Charlie Crist is the Donald Trump of the left," Jolly said. "He'll say anything until he gets caught."

When they're not talking about Trump, both candidates have been trying to carve away support from the other's home turf.

For Crist, that means frequent appearances this summer in Clearwater, the Republican rump of the newly constituted 13th.

For Jolly, that means spending the last days of the campaign in the predominantly black neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. He recently promised to open a congressional office in Midtown if he wins.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is the chairman of Jolly's campaign and has tapped old allies in the black community to drum up support.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, a Crist supporter, said the black community isn't fooled by campaign rhetoric, including attempts to portray Crist as complacent about the black vote.

"They know who Charlie is, they know," said Welch, who is black and represents Midtown. "They aren't going to be swayed."

Swaying voters takes money. And Crist has more of it.

He has raised more money on his own than Jolly, about $183,000 more between mid August and mid October. But outside money is the key to this race. That's how Jolly beat Democrat Alex Sink in 2014. The DCCC paid for the Trump ad and the League of Conservation Voters spent $300,000 to defeat Jolly.

Jolly isn't getting any national help from the GOP. The National Republican Congressional Committee isn't happy with Jolly after he proposed a bill banning members of Congress from personally soliciting donations. Jolly said that has freed him up to rewrite the playbook on how to win in a blue-leaning district.

Florida utilities chipped in $350,000 in October to a political action committee friendly to Jolly. Crist has repeatedly tried to tie Jolly to the unpopular utilities.

Crist has bombarded the airwaves with his own ads (they're positive, humorous and stress his deep Pinellas roots). The DCCC rolled out ads portraying Jolly as insensitive to the concerns of women and seniors.

Jolly has leaned on his one advantage: the power of incumbency. He has worked hard to keep his name in the media, giving his cash-starved campaign free exposure.

Two examples? Calling on the federal government to respond to the Zika virus. When Crist asked him why he hadn't intervened in St. Petersburg's sewage crisis, Jolly asked the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate.

"He was elected to be our representative and he's doing his job," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a Jolly supporter.

But Jolly's incumbency can only go so far against a Florida political icon.

Craig Sher, a prominent Democratic fundraiser, said Crist has a valuable political resource: Everybody knows who he is.

"He's got sky-high name recognition," Sher said, "and name recognition is huge."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement