Nickens: David Jolly is no Bill Young in race for Congress

David Jolly, left, paints Alex Sink as a pawn of Washington Democrats and interest groups. In fact, there will be a flood of money and attack ads from outside groups on both sides.
David Jolly, left, paints Alex Sink as a pawn of Washington Democrats and interest groups. In fact, there will be a flood of money and attack ads from outside groups on both sides.
Published Jan. 20, 2014

For a guy who planned for years to run for Congress, David Jolly lacks credibility in his pitch to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young.

This appears to be the Republican's campaign strategy to defeat Democrat Alex Sink in the March 11 special election:

• Pinellas County needs a member of Congress from Pinellas County. I'm from Pinellas County, and she's not.

• I'm running against Washington, and she is a creation of Washington.

• I embody the spirit and philosophy of Bill Young.

• The Affordable Care Act should be repealed.

Here's the problem with that strategy:

• Jolly is a native of Dunedin, but his resume is dominated by his work in Washington.

• A former Washington lobbyist and congressional aide who until last week was using a cellphone with a 202 area code to call reporters, and who owns an expensive house in Washington, has a hard time running against Washington.

• Jolly did not have unanimous support from the Young family or from other former Young aides in the Republican primary. And he does not sound anything like Bill Young.

• Less than one-third of Pinellas County voters want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Other than that, Jolly looks and sounds like a fine candidate to succeed the longest-serving Republican member of Congress.

It came as no surprise last week that Jolly won the Republican primary. He is more polished and more conservative than state Rep. Kathleen Peters, and he raised more money. A Republican primary, particularly one that is a special election with no household names, is going to be decided by the most loyal, conservative voters.

Jolly characterizes himself as a Bill Young Republican and wraps himself in the Young legacy. Voters should see through that.

First, earmarks are now banned in Congress. Nobody will be bringing home hundreds of millions for local projects like Young did because of the change in rules and a lack of seniority.

Second, Jolly's pinched parochialism is at odds with Young's regional view. Young brought untold projects and money to Tampa Bay, not just to his district. Where would the University of South Florida or MacDill Air Force Base be without Young? The marine science complex at USF St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Water Reservoir bear his name — and they are not in House District 13.

Third, Jolly sounds more conservative than Young and cannot be counted on to embrace his former boss' positions. For example, Jolly says spending cuts must be made to reduce the federal deficit before any new programs are created. Young advocated a combination of spending cuts and new investment.

Young also protected Pinellas' beaches from oil drilling for decades. Jolly says he supports the current restrictions, but he once listed on a disclosure form that he lobbied for a House bill to expand oil drilling. His explanation that he did not lobby for the bill but overcomplied with disclosure laws sounds awfully convenient.

This district is one of the nation's few swing districts, and President Barack Obama won it twice. Yet Jolly is running to the right and shows no signs of moderating for the general election. He calls for repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a clear alternative, even though most Pinellas voters do not favor repeal and more than 150,000 Pinellas residents lack health coverage. He talks of strengthening borders and opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, ignoring the small but growing Hispanic population in his district.

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Jolly paints Sink as a pawn of the Washington Democrats and interest groups. In fact, there will be a flood of money and attack ads from outside groups on both sides. The race will attract overblown national attention as a sort of referendum on the president and the Republican-led House. Pinellas voters are generally a well-grounded bunch, and they aren't likely to be swayed by the ideological background noise.

Sink is more familiar to voters, serving capably in statewide office and running for governor four years ago. The former banker has many business connections as well and is not some liberal firebrand. She is not threatening to moderate Republicans, and expect many of them to quietly support her.

Yet Sink is perfectly capable of running a lackluster campaign and losing to an unknown conservative Republican running for political office for the first time. See Rick Scott, 2010.

Jolly will not lack financial support. He looks good on television, knows federal issues and could well win. But he's no Bill Young, and he's going to have to offer voters more than his Pinellas County birth certificate.