U.S. Rep. David Jolly
By Nick Carper
History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
With U.S. Rep. David Jolly’s announcement today that he is ending his U.S. Senate bid to instead seek reelection to his Pinellas-based congressional seat, Charlie Crist’s Odyssean journey back to elected office may yet hold some intrigue.
Just a few short weeks ago, it looked as though Crist would cruise to victory. After all, he faced only token opposition in both the primary and general elections in his bid for the newly redrawn seat.
Despite the 13th Congressional District’s slight Democratic lean —a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+3, according to political guru Charlie Cook— polling has in recent days shown Jolly tied with Crist in a general election matchup.
Jolly’s announcement appears largely deferential to Sen. Marco Rubio and the growing likelihood that Rubio will soon announce he is seeking reelection to the Senate. Jolly himself has made clear in recent weeks that he would drop out and support Rubio if he ran for a second term.
By nudging Jolly out of the Senate race, has Rubio once again altered the course of Charlie Crist’s career?
It was just six short years ago that Crist was a popular Republican governor with a clear path to the United States Senate. Forgoing reelection to seek the seat that Rubio now holds, Crist started the race a prohibitive favorite. High profile Democrats like Alex Sink and Dan Gelber took a pass on that race, much like popular former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker decided against a matchup with Crist for Congress this year.
At first, it seemed like former State House Speaker Marco Rubio would be nothing more than an annoyance. Crist was a sitting governor with sky-high favorability ratings. But by spring of 2010, Rubio had against all odds taken a commanding lead. As a result, Crist was forced out of the GOP primary, exited the Republican Party, and registered and ran in the race as an independent.
Then-Gov. Charlie Crist running for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
But can Jolly beat Crist?
The district was redrawn this year to include heavily African American neighborhoods in south St. Petersburg, shifting Jolly’s district from a slight Republican tilt to a 3-point Democratic advantage. The demographics of the district are such that Jolly, who enjoys serving in the House, decided to run for the Senate, while Rick Baker couldn’t be persuaded to challenge Crist.
On paper, it is a tough district for a Republican to win.
Jolly, however, is among the most moderate Republicans in the House and a good ideological fit for the socially progressive but business-minded voters of central Pinellas. He won reelection with 75 percent of the vote under the old district makeup. Jolly also fields an innovative and battle-hardened campaign team against Charlie Crist’s relatively inexperienced crew.
Ultimately, partisan polarization and Crist’s strength in St. Petersburg, particularly among African Americans, make this race an uphill battle for any Republican, even a fearless and tenacious campaigner like David Jolly. Jolly may also have to deal with a “Donald Trump effect” spilling onto down-ballot Republicans.
But multiple polls showing Jolly competitive with Crist in this Democratic-leaning district, in a presidential cycle no less, shouldn’t be ignored. Even with the odds stacked against Jolly being able to pull off a win, he’s going to make Charlie Crist have to work for it.
And once again, Marco Rubio has made Charlie Crist’s political life difficult.
Photos of David Jolly and Charlie Crist by AliveTampaBay.com
Nick Carper, who wrote this guest column for Alive Tampa Bay, is an unabashed political junkie who follows campaigns and politics with a fanatical enthusiasm, which leads his friends and loved ones to regularly question his sanity. A native of rural West Virginia who was chased south by an undying disdain for winter, Nick has lived in Pinellas County since 2003. He graduated from USF St. Petersburg in 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and USF Tampa in 2013 with a master’s degree in Public Administration. Beyond his love for all things politics, Nick is a heavy metal aficionado, avid fisherman, and a veteran of numerous political campaigns in the Tampa Bay area.