Pinellas District 13 congressional race shaping up to be squeaker

Published March 9, 2014

As of Saturday, about 117,000 ballots had been cast in Pinellas County's special election for Congressional District 13 — more than half of the votes likely to be cast — and Republicans are gaining steam in the closing days. The GOP advantage in votes cast more than doubled over the last week to about 4,500 votes.

But for all the talk about an energized, anti-Obama Republican base in this off-year special election, the key to victory on Tuesday — no surprise for a swing district in the swing state of Florida — is swing voters and independents.

Republican David Jolly wins if he can keep Democrat Alex Sink from peeling away too many Republicans and beating him too heavily among the nearly one in five voters registered to neither major party.

As of Saturday, Republicans had a 4,515-vote advantage over Democrats in District 13 and likely will cast significantly more votes on election day than Democrats. It still may not be enough for Jolly, given the way swing voters ultimately pick the winner in this centrist district.

Consider that in 2012, Republicans had cast nearly 11,000 more votes than Democrats by election day and then outperformed Democrats on election day by more than 9,000 votes. Barack Obama still narrowly won the district.

In 2010, Republicans had a nearly 12,400-vote lead prior to election day and then on election day cast more than 8,600 more votes than Democrats. Sink still narrowly beat Republican Rick Scott in the district.

It's shaping up to be a squeaker, but giving the recent track record of District 13 voters, Jolly needs an even stronger GOP surge in the final stretch and on Tuesday.

If it's really close, we may not know the winner for sure until March 21, the deadline for overseas ballots to arrive.

Trashing Jolly's team

The national GOP does not appear to have great faith, let alone warm feelings for Jolly and his campaign team, based on the anonymous Washington Republicans who trashed his "Keystone Cops" campaign team in a Politico report published Friday.

The unsourced complaints about Jolly from the story include "inept fundraising, top advisers stationed hundreds of miles away from the district in the state capital and the poor optics of a just-divorced, 41-year-old candidate accompanied on the campaign trail by a girlfriend 14 years his junior."

Throwing a campaign under the bus practically on the eve of a seemingly toss-up election is hardly a vote of confidence — or a signal that Jolly would be encouraged to run again in November should he fall short.

Fishing for big donors

For the first time since he announced in November that he was running for governor, Charlie Crist's political committee raised more money in a month than the campaign committee of his opponent, incumbent Gov. Scott.

The "Charlie Crist for Governor Committee" raised $827,350 in February, nearly five times the $184,257 raised during the same period by Scott's "Let's Get to Work" committee.

Surpassing Scott's fundraising behemoth is at least an indication Crist can compete financially. But it falls far short of providing solid proof that Crist won't be blown out in the months to come or at least catch up so he can compete.

Although Charlie Crist for Governor raised $643,093 more than Scott's committee in February, and that's impressive, it's not as impressive as the amount Scott's committee outraised Crist's in November — $3,169,242. Or the $2,912,175 in December. Or the $2,866,381 in January.

Crist's committee has raised $4,400,850 since November, which is a wee shy of the $32.1 million "Let's Get to Work" has hauled in since January 2011.

The Mostyn Law Firm in Houston gave Crist's committee a Lone Star-sized boost of $300,000 on Feb. 26, but Crist has landed far fewer whales than Scott.

Since November, his committee has snared 15 contributions worth more than $100,000. The biggest ones were Mostyn's and another one for $300,000 on Nov. 26 from Floridians for Fairness, a health care PAC. Scott seems to be reaching into deeper pockets.

Since January 2011, "Let's Get to Work" has snagged 75 contributions of more than $100,000. The Republican Governor's Association gave a whopping $2.5 million in January. Billionaire Coral Gables executive Mike Fernandez, Scott's campaign finance co-chairman, kicked in $1 million.

Bill Edwards, a St. Petersburg entertainment and finance mogul, has contributed two $500,000 checks. The Seminole Tribe of Florida gave $500,000. And Lawrence DeGeorge, a Jupiter venture capitalist, has given contributions of $500,000 and $490,000.

Voting issues

Check out Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow him on Twitter @adamsmithtimes.