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David Jolly’s dilemma — not impressed by current GOP Senate field, but not keen to leave his constituents

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David Jolly says he’s excited to serve in the House of Representatives, but confesses he’s still considering entering the race for the Republican nomination for Senate in Florida in 2016.

“I would be happy to see the field develop in a way that there was a candidate that I knew I could fully support,” he told Florida Politics on Wednesday. “Where the field is today, I don’t see that, and so I’m just being patient, waiting to see who else considers getting in.”

That’s an obvious statement that Jolly isn’t enamored with the only Republican to enter the race so far, Jacksonville area U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who scored a perfect 100 score from the American Conservative Union earlier this week. Or with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who appears to be gearing up for a run as well for the Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.

Jolly says that Jeff Atwater was a candidate he could easily get behind supporting, but the state’s chief financial officer ripped up the GOP’s script on succession when he stunningly announced last month he would not be running for the seat. Several other name Republicans followed in announcing that they, too, would not enter the contest.

And that’s why Jolly remains a viable candidate, though he’s only been serving in the House for a little over a year after one of the most intense, hard-fought congressional special elections ever — with more than $12 million spent all told between the candidates, the political parties, and interested third-party groups based in Washington.

Sounding honestly conflicted, Jolly says he’s turned off by politicians who campaign for one job and begin looking at the next office once they win an election. “I never ran for the House to consider what I’d run for next,” he says. “I ran for the House because I love the House.”

He says that he listens to the people in his district, and says they’re approaching him with the message that they don’t want him to run for the Senate. “Most people are saying that because they appreciate what we’re doing,” he says, joking that some might be saying that because they don’t like his politics.

It was a busy day in the House on Wednesday. Jolly voted for a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a party-line vote. Less than a handful of Republican opposed it, which was a different story from January, when he was part of a group of Republicans who voiced objections about that bill because of a requirement that rape victims have to report to the police before they have the procedure.  That provision was removed but, as a compromise, the bill now requires rape victims to receive counseling and face a 48-hour waiting period before getting an abortion after 20 weeks.

Jolly says that he “questioned” the inclusion of that provision. “I think we might be overcomplicating the situation that we don’t need to overcomplicate.” He says that the language could still change when it goes to the Senate, though President Obama is expected to veto it if it reaches his desk.

Jolly also voted with the overwhelming majority of the House in approving legislation to end the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records.

Last week, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, known as Section 215, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records. Jolly said he agreed with that ruling, saying that the collection by the National Security Agency of metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans was a violation of due process. The bill passed by the House also would bar permitting bulk collection of records using other tools like so-called national security letters, which are a kind of administrative subpoena.

“There’s a  right balance between liberty and national security,” he says. “(Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell wants a pure extension of 215.  Rand Paul wants to abolish the whole thing, and that’s something I don’t support.”

But back to the possible Senate run. When you read this last sentence, it would seem very surprising if Jolly pulled the switch in July and said he would be abandoning his Pinellas County congressional seat.

“After everything that our community went through in the special election, I ran on the promise that Pinellas County needed somebody in the House capable of being effective on Day One. That was the promise that I made, that was the promise that I ran on. And I’m somebody who intends to keep promises. So we’ve got a long ways to go before I would consider running for Senate in this process.”

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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