Its easy to forget that Jolly was a longshot to sit in Congress at the start of the special election earlier this year. Despite working for Bill Young, the late congressmans family was divided on whether Jolly or another Republican should run for the seat. A majority of Republicans -- 55 percent of them -- voted for other candidates in the primary. Jolly was far less known than Democrat Alex Sink when things began. Sink did better at fundraising than Jolly and both sides had to turn to outside groups.
But Jolly pulled it off, beating Sink by 2 percent despite a strong showing by Libertarian Lucas Overby. Even more impressive, Sink and other strong Democrats like Jessica Ehrlich stayed out of Novembers contest. After a series of Democrat blunders, Jolly will only face Overby again in November.
Jolly had a pretty impressive ground game, aided by topnotch research efforts. Taking a page from the various Obama campaigns, conservative groups are starting to understand how new technology and social media can help pump out their turnout and Jolly reaped some of the benefits. Volunteers from conservative and tea party groups as well as the GOP faithful hit the ground for Jolly, knocking on doors and getting their voters out to the polls.
Things are only getting better on that front for Republicans. This week the RNC-backed Data Trust started its operations, creating voter information lists that the GOP and outside allies will be able to use in future campaigns. While it may have been too late to help Mitt Romney, Jollys showing helped pave the way for this kind of information-sharing effort.
Even more promising, Jollys district is in Pinellas County. Thats Charlie Crists traditional home base. Back in 2010, when he ran for the Senate with no party affiliation, Crist won the county with 42 percent followed by Marco Rubio with 40 percent and Kendrick Meek in distant third with 17 percent. Sink took 51 percent there when she ran against Rick Scott, who pulled 45 percent.
If Crist wants to beat Scott in November, he needs to do well in Pinellas County. But a poll this week shows that might not be the case. Taking a poll in the Jeff Brandes-Judithanne McLauchlan state Senate race for Saint Petersblog, St Pete Polls found Scott and Crist are in a dead heat in that Pinellas County district with neither candidate breaking 44 percent.
There are other parts of Pinellas County where Crist will do better, but Scotts camp should be pleased. Increasingly one of the chief arguments from Crist backers -- that the former GOP standard bearer will bring in a sizable chunk of Republicans -- is proving false.
Scott will still be hard-pressed to carry Pinellas but he can force Crist to focus on it. With much less money than Scott, Crist cant afford to spend too much in Pinellas which he carried only four years ago with no party infrastructure to help him.
If Scotts team wants to keep Crist busy in his own backyard, they should follow Jollys gameplan with strong research and a great ground game. An underdog at the start of the year when Republicans were pining for Jack Latvala, Will Weatherford and other candidates to get in against Sink, Jolly just might turn out to be the Florida GOPs MVP for 2014.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.