Suddenly it's increasingly plausible that Pinellas County will be the center of the political universe in 2016: David Jolly as a Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Democrat Charlie Crist vs. Republican Rick Baker for Jolly's seat, which becomes the hottest congressional race in America.
Okay, I grant that this may be a Tampa Bay-based political writer dreaming of how much fun might be looming. But hear me out on a scenario that makes a lot of sense now that Jolly's congressional district appears likely to pick up a big chunk of Democratic, African-American voters currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa.
The one Republican who would have a strong chance of winning that new district is former St. Petersburg Mayor Baker, who won re-election in 2005 and pulled 90 percent of the vote in overwhelmingly black Midtown precincts that are expected to shift into the 13th Congressional District. Pit him against Crist, and it would be a congressional race unlike any seen in ages. And if Crist did not run, Baker probably would be an instant front-runner over any other Democrat, whether it's Eric Lynn or Darden Rice.
Which brings us to Jolly, who popped onto the national political radar in 2014 after he stunned most of the prognosticators by beating Democrat Alex Sink in a special election after the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young. He came out of nowhere to win that race and could do the same with the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
In a crowded primary that so far looks likely to include U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller and businessman Todd Wilcox, Jolly has a super weapon called Tampa Bay. The region accounts for 26 percent of the primary electorate, and if he can lock it up by extending his support from Pinellas into Hillsborough, Jolly would walk into the nomination.
Now add Jeb Bush to the top of the ticket — or Marco Rubio — either as the presidential nominee or vice presidential nominee, and you have a near-perfect picture for Florida Republicans. Only one thing would make it more ideal: Alan Grayson as the Senate Democratic nominee.
New Senate districts?
With the Florida Supreme Court barring congressional districts from extending over waterways — as Castor's extends over Tampa Bay from Hillsborough to Pinellas — it's fair to assume some Tampa Bay state Senate districts will be thrown into uncertainty as well. The trial over Senate lines starts in September, but the high court's ruling means state Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, probably should not expect to retain districts that include chunks of Hillsborough and Pinellas much longer.
Bush backers gather
Top donors and bundlers began gathering at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, last week at a campaign retreat featuring strategy briefings and socializing. Among the Floridians we hear attended the session: Chuck and Sue Cobb, Mark and Dawn Guzzetta, Adam Putnam, Jack Latvala, Tom Feeney, Ana Navarro, Al Cardenas, Jason Rosenberg, Wilton Simpson, Slater and Sara Bayliss, George LeMieux, Zach Zachariah, Marty Fiorentino, John Rood, Justin Sayfie, Al Hoffman, Clark Smith, Bob Martinez, Husein Cumber, Alan Flores, Marcos Marchena and Tre Evers.
A Grayson error
After Rep. Grayson announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, his new campaign website — senatorwithguts.com — had a link for endorsements that looked mighty impressive. It had video of everybody from Martin Sheen to Debbie Wasserman Schultz touting support for the Orlando Democrat.
A closer examination, however, showed they were old video clips from people supporting his re-election to the House. We asked the Grayson campaign about it.
"The endorsement page was transferred to the new site in error," said spokesman Kevin Franck. "It has been removed."
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