U.S. Rep. David Jolly enters U.S. Senate race; Charlie Crist looks to run for Jolly's seat

U.S. Rep. David Jolly speaks Monday at a campaign launch rally about his run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Marco Rubio at a Republican Club of Greater Largo monthly meeting.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly speaks Monday at a campaign launch rally about his run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Marco Rubio at a Republican Club of Greater Largo monthly meeting.
Published July 21, 2015

A giant game of musical chairs for Florida politicians is under way, with Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly jumping into the U.S. Senate race Monday, only to be followed by Democrat Charlie Crist announcing he is likely to run for Jolly's congressional seat.

"If the new congressional map includes my home, I intend on running to serve the people again," Crist declared on Twitter, as Jolly was making the rounds of Tampa Bay media outlets to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate.

Jolly joins what appears to be a wide-open Republican primary with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, 36, of northeast Florida, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, 41, of Miami. The race also soon could include U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, 56, of northwest Florida, and former Attorney General Bill McCollum, 71, of Orlando. They are running for the Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, who is running for president.

"Over the next year, I intend to run for the United States Senate on an unwavering platform that will reject the politics of division and class warfare that have defined the current administration, reject the failed foreign policies that have projected only weakness and apology on the world stage, and embrace a new economy founded on the principle that individuals and families, not government bureaucrats, create success," said Jolly, a former congressional aide and lobbyist who just 15 months ago won a special election to succeed his old boss, the late C.W. Bill Young.

All this political maneuvering follows a July 9 Florida Supreme Court decision ordering state lawmakers to redraw congressional district boundaries because current lines violate the Constitution. Nothing is certain, but many observers expect Jolly's Congressional District 13 to become considerably more Democratic-leaning as it takes in much of south St. Petersburg — including Crist's downtown condo, currently nine blocks south of the district.

Crist, the former Republican governor who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2010 as an independent and unsuccessfully for governor in 2014 as a Democrat, would likely be the overwhelming favorite to win that seat if he runs. The St. Petersburg lawyer's name recognition and ability to raise money could be enough to clear the field.

But not necessarily, and definitely not right away.

"I'm in this race to stay, and I'm dedicated to winning no matter who enters or exits the race," said Democrat Eric Lynn, a former Defense Department official, who already has raised more than $400,000 for the congressional race and said his fundraising and grass roots activity have remained strong since the court ruling that promoted talk of Crist or other Democrats getting in.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, another potentially strong candidate looking at the race, said he would defer to Crist. "He's been a longtime supporter of me and I've been a longtime supporter of his, and I told him if he ran he'd have my support," Welch said. "I think he'd be an outstanding congressional candidate."

Lynn, 37, has been building a campaign for four months to take on Jolly, 42, casting him as too conservative for the Pinellas district. Now that he's running for U.S. Senate, Jolly faces critics calling him too liberal.

"In just 16 months in Congress, Jolly took his place as a big spender on the House Appropriations Committee and racked up a terrible record on fiscal issues. He was one of just three Republicans who voted FOR keeping the Death Tax. He voted against a conservative budget that would have cut spending, while standing for giveaways to Big Labor," said a statement from the conservative Club for Growth, which backs DeSantis.

"I am happy to put my conservative credentials up against anybody else," Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times. "I think the difference is I actually recognize we have a responsibility to govern and to govern responsibly and to legislate. I'm not an obstructionist who just gives big speeches and doesn't do their job."

He said, for instance, he supports repealing the estate tax, but voted against a particular proposal because it would have required hundreds of millions in additional federal debt.

Jolly has the advantage of representing a large piece of Tampa Bay, the biggest media market in Florida and home to roughly 26 percent of the Republican primary electorate. Supporters cast him as a conservative with a proven ability to win competitive races, but money is crucial in statewide contests and Jolly has never been a strong money raiser.

A native of Dunedin, Jolly received his bachelor of arts in history from Emory University in Atlanta and earned a law degree from George Mason University School of Law. He married earlier this month and resides in Indian Shores with his wife, Laura.

He is little known across Florida, but so are the other Republicans — except McCollum, who has run statewide several times. The former congressman told the Times on Monday that he likely would make a decision after August.

"It may be by that time somebody has such a supportive base that it's not appropriate for me to do it. On the other hand, I am interested in it," McCollum said.

Democrats running for Senate include U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.