Florida Musical Chairs Begin

July 22, 2015 — As predicted, Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13) announced his intention to run for Florida’s open Senate seat next year, joining what is becoming a crowded Republican field that may expand even further.

Rep. Jolly was originally elected to his marginal Pinellas County seat in an early 2014 special election after the venerable 21-term Rep. Bill Young (R) passed away. Jolly was an upset winner in the special, defeating former state CFO Alex Sink, who had lost a one-point race for governor in the previous statewide cycle.

Jolly is jumping into the Senate campaign largely because the state Supreme Court just recently declared his district and seven others illegal in accordance with the state’s voter-adopted redistricting initiative. Since the court objects to the Tampa-anchored 14th District jumping across the bridge to annex Democratic St. Petersburg, it is a virtual certainty that the politically marginal 13th will become less Republican. Therefore, Rep. Jolly’s chances of winning re-election in such a newly configured seat all of a sudden become poor.

But, how will he fare in a Senate race? Possibly, not much better. In this Republican primary race, Jolly will face Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Daytona) and most likely veteran Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Pensacola). Former state attorney general, congressman and 2000 GOP US Senate nominee Bill McCollum is another potential Senate candidate.

Whether a virtual freshman congressman will be able raise enough money to compete in a state the size of Florida is an open question. Additionally, Jolly has voted to the left of the average Republican House member, probably because of his district’s political nature. He supported gay marriage and was one of only three Republicans in the House to vote against the repeal of the federal death tax. Neither of these stances will make him a favorite of the typical Florida conservative Republican primary voter.

But, Jolly was not the only Florida political figure to signal future intent. Former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) now confirms he will run for what would be Jolly’s open district if the new lines place his home in the CD. Former St. Petersburg Republican mayor Rick Baker has also sent signals that he may be interested in entering the congressional race as have other Democrats, so it is likely that Crist will have significant opposition even if the seat is drawn to his liking.

While the 13th District will become more Democratic, conversely the 14th CD (Rep. Kathy Castor-D) will likely gain Republicans. Therefore, 2010 Republican nominee Mike Prendergast, a former gubernatorial chief of staff and director of the state office of Veterans Affairs, says he might be interested in running again in what should be a more hospitable Tampa-anchored district for a Republican candidate. In 2010, Rep. Castor defeated Prendergast 60-40 percent in a district President Obama twice carried with 65 percent of the vote.

But the Tampa area is not the only place featuring contemporary potential political moves. While the Pinellas County seat will go Democratic, rumors abound that the GOP legislative map drawers will go after Rep. Gwen Graham’s (D-Tallahassee) seat in the Florida panhandle region.

Former two-term Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Panama City), who rather surprisingly lost his seat despite the 2014 GOP landslide, indicates he now may be interested in making a return attempt if a district were to become available or winnable in the new draw.

The special redistricting legislative session has now been scheduled. The House and Senate will convene on Aug. 10 with the target adjournment date of Aug. 21. It is expected that the new map will be adopted during this 12-day period.

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