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How the CD 13 race might shake out if David Jolly opts to run for Florida Senate in ’16

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Although David Jolly has now publicly stated that he won’t make an official decision about leaving his congressional seat to run for the U.S. Senate until the 4th of July holiday, you can bet that he and his advisers are weighing the pros and cons of such a decision right now.

One of his calculations simply has to be who might he be running against in a GOP primary. The other candidates in the mix: Fellow Florida U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Vern Buchanan and Tom Rooney, as well as former House Speaker Will Weatherford and former Senate President Don Gaetz. And Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is getting known if only for the fact that he’s already considered a candidate, being mentioned in several polls already.

The biggest fear for Jolly obviously is running for the U.S. Senate and losing. As someone who aspired to succeed Young for a long time and is only now beginning his legislative career in Washington, would he want to throw that all away for a perhaps too ambitious move in 2016?  The only political option he might have left if he’s unsuccessful would be returning back to run for Congress in Pinellas in 2018, if a Democrat were to win the seat next year (and of course there’s also the 2018 Senate race to consider).

So while he contemplates that, let’s contemplate who might be men and women who would put their hat in the ring later this summer if Jolly were to announce his candidacy for ’16.

Democrats

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Eric Lynn is already in the race. The 36-year-old St. Pete native and Defense Department official declared his candidacy earlier this month, believing that it would be a one-on-one matchup against the GOP incumbent, who wasn’t even challenged by a Democrat last November. And while there’s still a chance another Democrat could get into the contest with Jolly as the nominee, it all changes if Jolly’s out. Here are some possible contenders:

Ken Welch — The longtime county commissioner is already on board with running for another four-year term, which would give him 20 years of serving on the Pinellas board. He’s been recruited before, but that was when family friend C.W. Bill Young was on the ballot. If this is an open seat, you better believe that Welch will give it serious consideration.

Janet Long — Could the New Hampshire-born and New York- raised Long opt to run for national office? At 70, this might be a long shot. But she should be given consideration.

Jessica Ehrlich — This St. Pete native has landed nicely on her feet over the past year following the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s rather awkward (and some would say disgraceful) handling of her in the fall of 2013, as she was forced out of running in the special election following U.S. Rep. Young’s death. The last time we spoke with Ehrlich, she was extremely busy with her law practice and television work, and didn’t seem to be all that inspired against running against David Jolly. But an open seat might provide a new opportunity.

Charlie Justice — Like Welch, Justice has already committed to running for re-election in Pinellas in 2016, but that was before this recent development by CFO Jeff Atwater opened up the possibilities of Jolly considering leaving the seat. Justice lost a very tough race to Young back in 2010, and our betting at the moment is that he’s content to stay in local office. But maybe not.

Republicans

Rick Baker — There could be some symmetry here if the former St. Pete mayor opts to run for what has been Jolly’s “seat” for the past year. The two are reportedly close, and Baker reportedly was the first to contact Jolly on Saturday to put the bug in his ear that he should consider a Senate run. He would undoubtedly be a strong candidate.

Jack Latvala — The cantankerous Clearwater state senator still is angling to become president of the Florida Senate in 2017, as his battle against Joe Negron continues to intrigue Tallahassee insiders. Would Latvala opt to leave Pinellas for half the year to work in Washington?

Jeff Brandes — Brandes took on popular Democrat Bill Heller in 2010 and was prepared to take on Jack Latvala in 2012 before the Pinellas Republicans sorted that all out (he ended up running and defeating Jim Frishe). With his financial resources and ambition, it would appear on the surface likely that the former Iraq war veteran would run to serve Pinellas residents in Washington.

Bob Gualtieri — You’d think the Pinellas County sheriff served in Tallahassee based on the number of appearances he’s made before committees representing the Florida Sheriffs Association this current legislative session. He was mentioned as a possible candidate back in the fall of 2013, and might seriously look at this race again in 2016.

Manual Sykes — We originally placed him in the Democratic column, until we were reminded about his much publicized switch to the GOP. So he’s now in the Republican camp. Someone recently told us that Sykes was considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, which seems fanciful, if not farcical. But he certainly has a reservoir of sympathy based on how he was handled by the former leadership of the Pinellas County Democratic Party back in 2014.

No doubt we may be missing a few names here, but it’s extremely early, and of course, could be completely academic if Jolly decides that he likes his current job too much to chance losing it so soon.

But he is seriously thinking of running for Senate — hence the early speculation.

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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