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Anticipation is high for tonight’s David Jolly – Charlie Crist CD 13 debate

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

While the nation eagerly looks forward to next Monday night’s first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Tampa Bay area has its own Great Debate taking place Monday night at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. That’s where David Jolly and Charlie Crist will hold their first debate in the Florida 13th Congressional District race.

The event is sold out, but will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on WTSP-10 News, moderated by the Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith, and WTSP news anchor/reporter Mark Rivera.

“We want people that are watching to really know what the difference is between these two candidates,” Rivera told SPB Monday morning. “We are looking forward to substantive answers from the candidates on the issues that matter to the district, Tampa Bay, the state, and the nation.”

The Times has produced many local political debates over the years, and tonight’s is the most anticipated since Smith and Bay News 9’s Al Reuschel hosted a Tampa Mayoral forum back in February 2011 at Blake High School. That’s the event where then-presumptive front-runner Dick Greco made his biggest gaffe of the campaign, calling a Tampa race riot in 1967 to a “panty raid-type thing.” It was a costly mistake that took 48 hours for him to apologize for, and he ultimately lost by just 348 votes to eventual winner Bob Buckhorn in getting into the runoff election.

The rancor between the two camps has been strong since the general election campaign began to take shape, beginning on the night of the primary election late last month. “This Republican primary season has been pretty frightening,” Crist said in a statement issued shortly after Jolly had officially won the GOP nomination for CD 13.

“It saddens me to think that anyone who supports Donald Trump’s agenda could ever represent Pinellas County,” it said. “And I look forward to sharing our vision for seniors, veterans, women, students, and our environment in the weeks ahead.”

Team Jolly immediately denounced the statement, saying the GOP incumbent hadn’t endorsed Trump. Team Crist responded back by saying that they didn’t say he had endorsed Trump, but had simply indicated that he supports “Trump’s agenda.”

The level of discourse has pretty much stayed at that level ever since. After Crist tweeted out a photo of a list of campaign contributors last week, the Jolly camp responded with a fundraising request labeled “disgusting,” comparing Crist posting campaign donors on an office wall in a negative light, saying that when Jolly enters his office, he sees photos of portraits of Pinellas military veterans.

And while the campaign might remain at that level over the next 50 days, there are a number of serious issues the candidates need to talk about, especially under the glare of the klieg lights, where presumably talking points won’t be sufficient in explaining their views.

“We want tonight to help voters navigate the District 13 congressional race and inform their ultimate decision,” Rivera says.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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