The New York Times
Aide to Late Lawmaker Wins a House Primary in Florida
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
January 15, 2014
MIAMI — The first race in the 2014 battle for Congress took shape on Tuesday in one of the country’s quintessential swing districts as David Jolly, a former general counsel to the district’s longtime Republican representative, the late C. W. Bill Young, defeated two opponents to win the Republican primary.
Mr. Jolly captured 45 percent of the vote. In a March 11 special election, he will face Alex Sink, a well-known Democrat who narrowly lost to Gov. Rick Scott and is considered the front-runner.
In his victory speech, Mr. Jolly made a pledge. “I will work to repeal Obamacare right away,” he said, zeroing-in on the election’s hot-button issue. “I will work to replace it with a private-sector solution that actually does fulfill that now famous promise.”
The seat in the Pinellas County district, which includes Clearwater and large parts of St. Petersburg, came open in October after Mr. Young’s death. A third candidate, Lucas Overby, a Libertarian, will also be on the ballot in March.
Viewed from afar, the race is largely seen as a barometer of President Obama’s popularity and of his signature health care law, which faced a torrent of dissatisfaction in the months after it was rolled it out. Democrats are looking to pick up a seat in a district that now has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and a large share of independents.
But on the local level, enthusiasm was muted Tuesday, with only 5 percent of the voters showing up across Pinellas County as voters dodged rain to cast ballots for candidates who were mostly unfamiliar to them. Absentee and early votes lifted overall turnout to 26.8 percent.
In securing his victory, Mr. Jolly beat State Representative Kathleen M. Peters, a former mayor of South Pasadena in Pinellas who is serving her first term in the Legislature, and Mark Bircher, a retired Marine Reserve brigadier general with no political experience.
Mr. Jolly, 41, was born in Pinellas County and worked for Mr. Young for more than a decade. He later became a lobbyist and a consultant, jobs that his opponents used to try to tarnish him as a Washington insider.
But Mr. Jolly, a lawyer, portrayed his years inside the Beltway as a benefit, an experience that will make it easier for him to navigate the complexities of Congress.
All three candidates faced a truncated campaign schedule that ran into the holiday season, making it difficult to get the attention of voters. As the campaign turned increasingly negative, Ms. Peters and Mr. Jolly traded their own barbs over the health law, with each seeking to paint the other as a supporter.
Under light but steady rain Tuesday morning, Robert Bennett, 73, walked out of a polling station at the Barrington Retirement Community in Largo. Mr. Bennett said he knew Mr. Young, the former lawmaker, from church.
Whoever wins will “have big shoes to fill,” Mr. Bennett said of Mr. Young, who had been the longest-serving Republican in Congress. With that in mind, he chose Mr. Jolly, the candidate closest to Mr. Young. He said his vote for Mr. Jolly had much to do with the candidate’s opposition to abortion. Mr. Jolly won the endorsement of National Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.
With the primary over, Mr. Jolly must now turn his attention to a formidable Democratic opponent. Ms. Sink, 65, a former bank executive who once served as Florida’s chief financial officer, has had the luxury of stockpiling her money as Republicans spent it against one another.
She has amassed $1 million for her campaign and will benefit greatly from the largess of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and women’s groups.
Pragmatic and flashing her bona fides as a businesswoman, Ms. Sink has so far run a relatively low-profile campaign as she waited for the Republican field to clear. But with only two months to go before the general election, she is expected to quickly raise her presence on the trail and spend her cash on advertisements and direct mail.
Marilyn Garateix contributed reporting from Largo, Fla.
The New York Times Company