U.S. Rep David Jolly has dropped out of the U.S. Senate race and is running for re-election instead, ready to take on likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist.
The news is viewed as the first domino to fall affecting what has been a wide-open U.S. Senate race. If incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio decides to run for re-election, as widely expected, it could cause at least two of the four remaining Republicans in the race to drop out.
Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, said the more he traveled around Florida “the more dedicated I became to the opportunity before me, the opportunity to continue to do my day job.”
“I have unfinished business. We have unfinished business together,” Jolly in an email sent out to supporters. “Today I’m asking you for the opportunity to keep doing my job. I ask for your support in seeking reelection to the House of Representatives.”
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Jolly confirmed his decision in a meeting with the media at noon at Clearwater Aviation.
“David Jolly’s passion is to serve the people of Pinellas,” said former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. “He learned at the side of Congressman Bill Young and he has effectively served all parts of our county. I strongly endorse his candidacy and his reelection.”
Earlier Friday, when it became clear Jolly was planning to run for re-election, Crist said he felt confident of winning the race.
“We have better turnouts typically,” he said of Democrats and presidential election years. “Things went well for us in the district even in the gubernatorial election with a lot of money spent against us. I feel good about things.”
The district also got a touch more Democratic as a result of redistricting.
“I think generally speaking Congress has been pretty dysfunctional. We need leaders that can get things done and can work with others,” Crist said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “Congress while he’s been there has not been that place, and that’s unfortunate.
Crist declined to offer specific criticisms of Jolly.
“Listen, I’m not here to name call, certainly not on someone’s announcement day. He did that to us, but that’s not my style… It’s just Day One and we’ll take it from here.”
In July 2015, Jolly jumped into the Senate race after incumbent Rubio announced he would not seek re-election and instead run for president. Four other Republicans are also running in the race to replace Rubio, but none have surged to the forefront causing national Republicans to become increasingly worried that none can win in November. That has had Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others publicly calling on Rubio to run again for the Senate, even though he has repeatedly shot down rumors he would do so.
But this week, Rubio told reporters he is considering it after telling a national radio talk show host that the tragedy in Orlando had given him pause to think about how he could serve the nation. Rubio has to decide by June 24, the deadline to enter the race, the deadline to qualify to get on the ballot.
Jolly has said for two weeks he expects Rubio to run for re-election now, and he has no interest in running against him.
“I think all signs are pointing to him running,” Jolly said in an interview with the Times/Herald two weeks ago.
Jolly has said Rubio would be the best candidate for Republicans to retain the seat in November against either U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy or Alan Grayson - the two Democrats seeking the post.
Pinellas County Republicans have been pushing Jolly for months to run for re-election to the 13th Congressional District and take on Crist, the former Republican governor who has switched to the Democratic Party.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis have both said they do not intend to run against Rubio if he gets back into the Senate race. But real estate developer Carlos Beruff and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox have both already filed papers to run and have said they are prepared to take on Rubio.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee slammed Jolly as he left the race, saying he was ill prepared to run a statewide race.
“David Jolly wanted any excuse to end his Senate campaign that was defined by lackluster support and pathetic attempts to scrub his lobbying career from his public biography,” DSCC Communications Director Sadie Weiner said.
Times Political Editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.