ST. PETERSBURG — In a surprising move, Democrats announced after the qualifying deadline Friday they are supporting a no-party candidate in the race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
As the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced its support of Jany, plenty of doubt was raised about his viability given that he is unknown, he lives outside the Pinellas district’s boundaries and he isn’t technically running as a Democrat.
Democrats, who had hoped Alex Sink would again run in November after losing to Jolly in March, say the advantage lies largely in Jany’s story.
“Throughout my life, I’ve always lived by a code of service,” Jany said during a telephone call with reporters. “Hard work, honor — that’s what I believe in. It’s very obvious that our representatives in Washington are not serving our country the way they should.”
Along with Jany, Libertarian Lucas Overby and no-party candidate Michael Levinson, both of whom ran in March, also filed for the race against Jolly.
Jany said he spent much of his career in the military, first as an enlisted man, then as an officer and in special forces as a Green Beret. Among other things, he worked as a police officer in Orlando, a commanding officer for the Anti-Terrorism Battalion and for the Special Operations Command Central at MacDill.
Some Democrats said that kind of resume — coupled with his disillusionment with the current Congress — could do well in the 13th District, which runs from Dunedin to Tierra Verde with parts of downtown and southern St. Petersburg cut out.
Republicans are calling it a case of shoddy candidate recruitment.
“This is a humongous recruitment fail for Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, in an emailed statement. “After losing all of their top recruits thanks to President Obama’s toxic agenda, they are now stuck with a candidate who couldn’t even run as a Democrat because he didn’t register in time. This is truly embarrassing for Washington Democrats.”
In addition to his lack of name recognition, Jany quickly has to counter the carpetbagger label, something Sink also had to contend with in moving to Pinellas from Hillsborough to run for the seat.
“It’s hard to win when you’re continually importing outsiders, and it appears to me that’s what (Democrats are) doing,” said Darryl Paulson, a political science professor emeritus at University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Jany said he plans to move to the district, which he already knows pretty well.
“I’ve been looking for a place for years at Sand Key,” he said. “My wife and I spend a significant amount of time in Pinellas County. Not a week goes by when we’re not at Mazzaro’s for cannoli and espresso, or we’re not having gelato in St. Pete or at Sand Key running on the beach or at Fort DeSoto with our dogs. I don’t think it’s an issue.”
If he can get past the residency issue, being an unknown no-party candidate might not be so terrible in a year that isn’t expected to be great for Democrats, some said.
“I kind of wonder if it may end up being helpful,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of University of Virginia politics blog Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
It’s a year when having a “D” next to one’s name potentially can be hazardous, given that midterm elections within a president’s second term tend not to bode well for his party. Still, Kondik said, it’s not exactly a strategy he’s seen before.
“The situation seems unique,” he said.
Jany’s Democratic backing comes after a series of potential contenders who declined to run, including Sink, Jessica Ehrlich, state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St.Petersburg, and the Rev. Manuel Sykes of St. Petersburg.
Sink, who lost to Jolly by a 1.5 percent margin in March, announced last month she would not run, which didn’t give potential candidates much time to mobilize.
“Because Sink took so long to make the decision not to run again, it really closed out a lot of potential candidates who needed every single second to put together a campaign organization and a campaign finance plan to be a viable candidate,” said Paulson.