CLEARWATER — David Jolly, the former counsel to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, won the Republican primary Tuesday to replace his former boss in Congressional Dist. 13.
Jolly defeated state Rep. Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher, and moves on to the March 11 election against Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby.
Jolly had 45 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for Peters and 24 percent for Bircher. The seat became open when Young died in October.
Jolly had been polling ahead of Bircher and Peters for several weeks in the special election, and raised substantially more money than the two of them combined. The GOP nominee did not hesitate to go after Sink, whom he accused of being part of the “Washington establishment.”
“We are going to wake up tomorrow running against a national machine that is running in Washington, DC,” he told supporters at his watch party in a ballroom at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater. “Washington, I’m telling you, do not count out this campaign, do not count out this candidate. We are going to win this race on March 11th.”
Since November, Jolly and Peters were locked in a fierce primary fight that filled airways and mailboxes with attacks on one another over the holidays.
Peters represents Florida’s 69th District in the state house and formerly served as mayor of South Pasadena.
“To me, some of the most important leaders in this whole community were here supporting me,” Peters said. “That, to me, sends a message about how critically important it is, for whoever has this seat, that they are truly in touch with Pinellas County. They have to have their finger on the pulse of Pinellas County.”
Peters has not said whether she plans on endorsing to endorse Jolly.
Much of the contention between the two candidates centered on the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Peters had said she preferred to develop a replacement before voting to repeal it, something the Jolly campaign seized upon in an attempt to make it appear as though she embraced the controversial law.
The Peters campaign then accused Jolly, who is former a registered Washington lobbyist, of advocating on behalf of Obamacare because one of his clients, Faneuil Inc., runs a Washington state health exchange, something the Jolly campaign refuted. .
Pinellas Republican Party Chairman Michael Guju said he thinks any division within the party from the primary won’t last, and that local Republicans who supported Peters should quickly fall in line to defeat Sink.
“As you know, races are always difficult,” he said. “It’s the political process. However, Republicans are known for coming together after difficult races.”
With an expensive primary battle behind him, Jolly now faces a tough fight against Sink.
Jolly and Republicans at all levels already have lobbed their share of criticism at Sink, whom they call a carpetbagger because she had not lived in the district until last month.
Political experts say both parties are about to start pouring money into the two campaigns and their respective Political Action Committees, and to expect an onslaught of mailers and TV ads until the March 11 general election.
“It’s going to be one expensive race,” said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus, who estimates that it will cost well into the millions. “It’s all about winning this open seat.”