In the first poll of the special election in Congressional District 13, eventual winner David Jolly was not at the top of the field. He wasn’t in second-, third-, fourth-, or fifth-place, either. Jolly, registering at a full 1.8 percent level of support, was in sixth place — 17 points behind “Someone else.”
Less than six months later, Jolly was on his way to Washington, D.C., having emerged from a contentious GOP primary to narrowly defeat Alex Sink in the general election.
Fast forward to today, Jolly has a year in Congress under his belt and his name is being included in stories and polls about which Republican has the best chance in 2016 to win Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat.
According to a Mason-Dixon poll reported about by Marc Caputo of POLITICO, former Attorney General Bill McCollum is the best-known Republican still in the mix. McCollum would draw 20 percent of the vote to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s 11 percent, Jolly’s 10 percent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’ 9 percent, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s 8 percent; former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux’s 7 percent and state Sen. Don Gaetz’s 5 percent.
That’s right, Jolly’s in a healthy third place. And since that poll has been taken, Rooney has dropped out. Buchanan, who would draw some of the same West Coast support as Jolly, is also likely not to run. Regardless, Jolly is ahead of candidates who have appeared on a statewide ballot (CLC), held the job (LeMieux), or should have a statewide profile from their time as a legislative leader (Gaetz).
If you’re Jolly and you’re fresh off a race where you maneuvered past better-known, more experienced candidates, why wouldn’t you give serious consideration to a 2016 race where you could maneuver past better-known, more experienced candidates into the U.S. Senate?
Earlier this month Jolly, 42, told the Tampa Bay Times that he is in no rush to make a decision. This probably has as much to do with Jolly’s recent engagement to the wonderful Laura Donahoe as it does the pull of the election cycle.
But if Jolly can pull off the impossible — plan for a wedding and a statewide political campaign — here’s why he could be formidable.
1. He’s from Tampa Bay and the I-4 corridor, the sweet spot of Sunshine State politics. Geography is destiny, right? And in a crowded field of lesser-known candidates, Jolly’s base being in vote-rich central Florida is an advantage over DeSantis and Gaetz.
2. Jolly’s fundraising prowess. The former lobbyist turned heads early in the CD 13 special election by wrapping up the endorsements of some of Florida’s most prominent GOP donors, including Mel Sember, Al Hoffman, Jim Holton, and Jim McDougald. The checkbooks and connections of just those four men could get Jolly’s campaign off to a strong start. Add to them Jolly’s decades of connections in D.C. and raising enough money to be more than competitive should not be a problem.
3. The team backing Jolly. There are a lot of talented, smart consultants working in Florida. And most of them — including Jamestown Associates, which will be guiding DeSantis’ expected campaign — won’t be on Jolly’s side. But Jolly has an A-list team backing him, including Pat Bainter, Marc Reichelderfer, Adam Goodman, Nick Hansen, and Sarah Bascom.
4. Most important, Jolly can do the job. Already in his first year, Jolly has made a nice impression as a bipartisan, but principled leader. Combine this with his experience as a staffer and a lobbyist and there’s little doubt that Jolly would represent Florida well in the U.S. Senate. One almost gets the impression that he would serve in the same dignified manner as former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, while maintaining the emphasis on constituent service he learned from his mentor, former U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young.
Despite these advantages, it’s unlikely Jolly will pull the trigger on a U.S. Senate run, but don’t be surprised if takes a little time considering it.