Former Florida governor and perpetual candidate Charlie Crist has a new title to add to his growing list of political positions. On Tuesday, Crist won his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives over Republican incumbent David Jolly, besting the Republican by nearly 52 percent of the vote.
Jolly took 48 percent of the vote, losing by a little over three percent of the vote.
The battle for Florida’s 13th congressional district, which covers most of Pinellas County, was one of the most hard-fought and ugliest campaigns in the state.
On Tuesday, supporters of both candidates flocked to victory parties in St. Petersburg.
The tone at Crist’s event, which was mostly sparse, was calm yet hopeful. Glasses clinked. People were toasting to an expected victory.
Crist delivered the win.
“He knows the people. He knows how to govern,” Myrl Decker of St. Pete Beach told Sunshine State News at the Don Cesar Hotel in St. Petersburg. “He is concerned about the people of Florida and of the Pinellas area in particular.”
The campaign between Crist and Jolly turned especially brutal during the last two months. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dumped over $2 million into Crist's run for Congress via attack ads featuring a Photoshopped David Jolly with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump -- a total fabrication marked as a "dramatization" in the spot.
Crist initially shrugged off the ad, saying it was the DCCC's "First Amendment Right" to run it. After a Tampa Bay Times editorial called for Crist to request the ad's removal, Crist buckled and finally admitted it was wrong.
Jolly, however, pushed back.
In turn, Jolly’s campaign honed in on Crist’s past as “Chain Gang Charlie,” and centered its focus on his lack of involvement with the black community as the election drew near. Crist skipped out on a local NAACP debate and was accused of pandering to the black community by rattling off at-will promises to appeal to African-American voters.
Unfortunately for Jolly, not everyone was convinced by the chain gang attacks. Marcea McFarla, an African-American voter from St. Petersburg said she supported Crist when he was a Republican, though she didn’t actually vote for him, and said she wasn’t fazed by his tough on crime approach which put many blacks in shackles.
“Everybody has a past,” McFarla said. "The past doesn't matter."
Others disagreed, and said Crist hadn't done as much as he could have for the black community while campaigning, effectively abandoning them until the eleventh-hour when he realized black voter turnout was down and he hadn't made a sincere effort to reach out.
"It's unfortunate people couldn't see the authenticity of David Jolly as opposed to the phoniness of Charlie Crist," said Leslie Wimes, president of the Democratic African American Women Caucus. "Jolly [would have been] someone who would have done positive things for the African-American community."
Crist contended the bitter race was simply politics, and nothing personal.
"Jolly was my opponent, but he was never my enemy," he explained.
At the Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Jolly spoke to a large, cheering crowd, telling them despite his loss, their work against the status quo in Washington was not through.
“We can secure our communities, we can bring what I call ‘radical common sense’ to the most dysfunctional place...the U.S. Congress,” he said. “While tonight might be the end of our campaign, I promise you this: This is just the beginning of what will be a historic journey.”
Jolly’s tone turned emotional when he reflected on the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young, who he worked for and succeeded in Congress.
"Politics have changed in 40 years,” he said. "I had the benefit of learning from one of the finest legislators to ever serve in the US congress."
Jolly hugged supporters who had been there with him every step of the way after conceding, thanking them for their support.
He told Sunshine State News he wouldn’t totally rule out a future in politics, but said he didn’t know for certain what his future would hold.
“If there’s an opportunity to contribute in the future, I’ll do it,” he told SSN.
“He’ll go wherever it is that he wants to go because he is that talented...and he is that unique,” said Jolly campaign spokesperson Max Goodman. “The sky’s the limit.”
At the end of the day, Jolly was a lone ranger in the CD13 race -- he fought through the election without the help of the national Republican party, which snubbed him due to laws he introduced prohibiting members of Congress from fundraising while on Capitol Hill.
In spite of the hardship of running a race without help from the GOP, Jolly told SSN he wouldn’t have had it any other way -- in the end, he only had to answer to himself and could blaze his own trail according to his own set of rules.
“I’m kind of glad we did it without them, because win or lose, nobody owns us,” he said.