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Jeff Atwater, David Jolly star at Pinellas GOP Lincoln Day Dinner

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As one of the major counties along the I-4 corridor, Pinellas County will undoubtedly be a contested piece of real estate in choosing the next president of the United States, and ensuring that it goes for the GOP nominee is in 2016 is the number one goal for Pinellas Republican over the next 18 months, according to recently elected party chair Nick DiCeglie.

The 2016 election was mentioned frequently during the course of the two and a half-hour Lincoln Day Dinner put on by the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee on Friday night at the Hilton Carillon Park in St. Peterburg. Not only by featured speakers Jeff Atwater and David Jolly, but also in the brief video comments made by potential presidential aspirants Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry.

392 people attended, and the event brought in $127,000.

For many in the audience, it was the first time to see and hear Atwater in person. The state’s Chief Financial Officer is considered a leading candidate for the GOP nomination for the 2016 Senate seat, especially if Marco Rubio opts to not run for reelection. The West Palm Beach resident didn’t go for the red meat that is traditionally offered in such venues however, instead giving a Reaganesque type of speech celebrating American ingenuity.

Lasting slightly longer than 20 minutes in length, Atwater began by boasting about the state’s current economic fortunates coming out of the Great Recession. He gave praise to current and previous Pinellas state lawmakers in the room for helping to get the state out of troubled times without raising taxes, and said it was all about the Republicans in Tallahassee trusting in the people.

Referring to how states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York Jersey raised taxes and their debt to balance their budgets, he boasted about how Florida chose a different path.

“We chose to worry more about your books than ours. We choose where you would be going with your small business rather than us, because we believed if we could focus on creating conditions for your success, by unleashing your creativity…you would bring us back.”

He then joked about some of President Obama’s failures and how he only learned about them through reading the New York Times. “All he has to do was watch Fox and he knows everything in the world,” he quipped.

And then he went on a different journey, spending the majority of his time recounting some of America’s greatest inventors, starting with the Founding Fathers creating the Declaration of Independence. He ultimately name checked various entrepreneurs like Eli Whitney, Charles Goodyear, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers. It went deeply historical, but the kicker – which was that some of those great innovators would have been hampered by regulations and government bureaucracy – came late in the speech.

David Jolly was the one providing the Obama-bashing. The CD 13 Congressman noted that he has been in office now for just over a year, boasting that his victory catapulted the GOP to their historic congressional gains in November. He took plenty of shots at President Obama’s foreign policy, saying that he has turned “history upside down” by negotiating with Iran and Cuba and “letting” Russia intervene in neighboring Ukraine.

He went on to say that Obama’s foreign policy “compromises our national security,”and said that while the U.S. no longer has to be the world’s policeman, “We do need to be the world’s leader.”

But the most interesting part of his speech was his criticism of his fellow House Republicans (like Gus Bilirakis) who voted on the budget resolution that passed the House. Jolly was one of only 17 House Republicans to do so. “As a party we need to challenge ourselves on this,” he cautioned. “We need to do better.”

And he said that Republicans have to be a “solutions oriented party” on how they eliminate deficits, proclaiming that “there’s no reason for anybody to serve in the US Congress if one day they’re going to look back and see that the debt increased under their watch, that the debt decreased. I have no interested in being part of a U.S Congress that I’m going to look back on one day and recognize that we actually increased the debt over the time of my tenure, not decrease it.We need candidates that share that commitment.”

Jolly and DiCeglie also cautioned all those in attendance to remain united as the party battles it out for their presidential nominee, words that take on resonance more than ever with state heavyweights Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio possibly about to battle it out over the next year.

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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