INDIAN SHORES — David Jolly kept it local in his announcement that he wants to take over the U.S. House seat his former boss had held for decades.
In front of a crowd of about 50 outside the Indian Shores Municipal Center, the lobbyist, lawyer and former aide to the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young stressed his local ties and decried the partisanship that has for many come to define Wahington politics.
Jolly is so far the only declared Republican in the race for the 13th Congressional District. Last week, after former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker said he would not run for the seat, some local Republicans criticized Jolly for not being a familiar face in the district.
Familiarity to local voters is considered a strong asset, given that the special election’s March date does not leave much room for a lesser known candidate to gain the kind of name recognition that Democrat and former state chief financial officer Alex Sink Sink already has.
“I think we need a candidate with roots in this district so we can draw the comparison with Alex Sink,” said powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala last week. “Out of the 457,000 people who live in this district, it seems to me we can find somebody who would make a good congressman.”
On Thursday, Jolly tried to fend off any perceptions he was a Washington insider who was out of touch with the district.
“I was born in Dunedin,” Jolly said. “When I graduated college, I had never been north of Tennessee.”
The only other announced candidate in the race so far is Sink, who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Rick Scott in 2010. Sink lives in Thonotosassa in eastern Hillsborough County, and she has been criticized for not already living in the district when declaring her candidacy.
Jolly has a home in Indian Shores and serves on a town board there, but his law firm is based in Washington, D.C.
“This race is about Pinellas County, and this race is about ensuring that somebody from Pinellas County is elected to represent our communities and our neighbors,” Jolly said.
He was flanked by the town’s mayor, James Lawrence, several veterans, local businessmen and others.
Beverly Young, Congressman’s widow, was also on hand to show her support. Young said her husband asked Jolly to run while on his deathbed.
“He asked David to fight the fight for him, and carry on what he does, and carry on what I do with the troops,” she said. “David has been with Bill for 20 years. He works with me with the troops all the time. He works with Bill all the time, and this was Bill’s choice. I didn’t even give it a thought.”
Although Young comfortably held his seat for more than four decades, District 13 is very much a swing district, and candidates in the general election will have to appeal to moderates in both major parties as well as Pinellas County’s tens of thousands of registered Independent voters.
Although it’s unclear whether Jolly will face an opponent in the GOP primary, he is already stressing bipartisanship.
The Democratic party at the state and national levels issued statements criticizing Jolly for being a lobbyist Thursday, and bashed Republicans for not being able to find a well-known person for the seat.
“After Washington lobbyist David Jolly cashed in on his political connections and manipulated the dysfunctional politics of D.C. to enrich himself at the expense of middle class Floridians, it’s impossible to trust Jolly to look out for Pinellas residents in Congress,” wrote Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp in a statement sent out Thursday morning.
Jolly said he’s not a fan of divisive politics; as a case-in-point, he said, he would not have supported last month’s government shutdown.
“Just because I registered as a Republican doesn’t mean that I need to subscribe to the notion that Democrats are always wrong, or Independents are always wrong,” he said. “That is a Washington-based notion, that is not a Pinellas County notion.”