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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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The District 13 race: Local boy vs. machine-backed outsider

On Wednesday, I sat down for lunch with David Jolly. Despite his jeans and untucked button-down shirt, he looks like a congressman. He has a low-key and modest demeanor, but his personal style doesn’t make him a slouch. Although no freshman member of Congress from Pinellas County (or Hillsborough, for that matter) could fill Bill Young’s shoes, Jolly is the most qualified and prepared to hit the ground running.

For her part, Alex Sink, the hand-selected candidate of Democratic Party leaders in Washington, looks good on paper (other than she’s not from the district), but as a campaigner, she’s more awkward than Miley Cyrus teaching an etiquette class. The party bosses must have forgotten Sink’s lackluster personality is why Rick Scott is governor. What they didn’t forget was a good Web URL. Just 14 hours after Young’s passing was announced, the URL being used by the Sink campaign was secured.

Although Sink’s folksy new television ad starring herself and her father is great at trying to break her detached image as a clone of the Democratic Party bosses, putting lipstick on a mule doesn’t hide the mule.

The gentlewoman from Hillsborough County’s carpetbagging aside, the issues in this campaign likely favor Jolly, not Sink. Voters are fed up with the heavy hand of government, specifically Obamacare. A Quinnipiac survey of voters nationwide, released last week showed 55 percent oppose the quagmire legislation that has defined the president. A poll of District 13 voters showed even greater disapproval.

As Slate political reporter Alex Isenstadt noted, “Sink’s message — that Obama ‘failed us’ but the law should be fixed, not repealed — is the universal Democratic credo.”

If voters think the same Washington Democrats who gave us Obamacare and who anointed Sink can be trusted to fix it after all the assorted lies, incompetence and empty rhetoric that followed its passage, they shouldn’t be surprised when Congresswoman Sink does nothing.

For the record, Jolly supports repealing the failed Obamacare legislation.

That Sink is wrong on the issues explains why she’s going to run a character assassination-driven campaign. Specifically, she’ll do this by criticizing Jolly for his stint as a lobbyist. My advice to Jolly is: Don’t take the bait. Instead, wear the lobbyist label like a Boy Scout merit badge. Don’t run from it. Don’t be on defense. Just tell your story. Voters are sophisticated enough to realize a lobbyist is nothing more than a relationship broker between elected officials and trade groups, businesses, professional organizations and the like.

That said, pretty much everyone in America is represented by lobbyists. And who are the biggest lobbyists of them all? Members of Congress. They are lobbyists for the interests of the citizens of their district.

Some of Jolly’s lobbying clients have included Volusia County; e-Bay; University of South Dakota; and the National Alliance of State Broadcasters. Hardly the stuff of bribes and back-room deals portrayed in Hollywood movies or that Sink and the DNC would have you think he was involved in.

Jolly told me he also lobbied on behalf of a Pinellas company that he was successful in getting a DOD grant for. The grant allowed the company to develop laser technology to detect IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has saved countless lives and limbs. He also successfully lobbied (pro bono) for the Support Jessie’s Law Foundation to get $60 million in funding for the U.S. Marshals Service to go after sexual predators on the loose. Thank you, David Jolly. I’ll take that kind of lobbying any day.

Sitting with Jolly at Crabby Bill’s restaurant in Indian Rocks Beach, several people came over to say hello to the hometown guy, and it was clear from the interaction he had with the owner of the restaurant that he is a regular patron. The facts also support that he’s a Pinellas guy and not the Washington insider Sink wants to portray him as being. His homestead has been in Pinellas for years, as has his voter registration. He is on the Indian Shores Board of Adjustment. He has volunteered over the years for a number of civic and charitable groups, including the Boys and Girls Club.

Jolly has paid his dues in service and understanding of Pinellas County.

“We’re going to win on the issues. But we’re running against the Democrats’ typical establishment machine politics. They overreached. This is a local race. People are offended by what they did running off Jessica Ehrlich,” he said.

Ehrlich, a Pinellas lawyer, was a declared candidate for Young’s seat before Young died. She was the Democratic nominee against Young in 2012, posting the second-best election results by an opponent of Young’s during his 40-year career. Ehrlich dropped out of the race following pressure from Democrat Party bosses in Washington so the field would be clear for the lady who lives closer to Disney World than the Pinellas beaches.

For Jolly to win, he’ll need money to match Sink so he can be on TV in equal numbers. If he comes close to matching her money, I believe he will be the victor; because Jolly knows the district better and he’s more personable than Sink, whose pleasantries when interacting with voters comes across as forced.

Sink, who is renting an apartment in the district, isn’t scheduled to be in town on Feb. 5. She is to be in Washington, D.C., that day for a fundraiser, instead of attending a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club candidate debate that night (Jolly agreed to attend before the primary election was over).

I wonder whether there will be any Washington lobbyists at that fundraiser.

You can bet on it.

Chris Ingram is a Republican political consultant and political analyst for Bay News 9. Email him at [email protected]

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