Former Gov. Charlie Crist has attempted to tie his congressional opponent U.S. Rep. David Jolly to Donald Trump, but Jolly has no intention of making that connection easy for the former Florida governor who is now his direct competitor.
Jolly has been notoriously hesitant to endorse Trump, and has always been cautious to avoid swaying one way or the other -- until now.
It all started when Jolly beat opponent Mark Bircher in the Republican primary Tuesday. Crist used Jolly's win as an opportunity to attack the GOP nominee for "supporting" Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's policies.
“This Republican primary season has been pretty frightening,” Charlie Crist said in a statement this week. “It saddens me to think that anyone who supports Donald Trump’s agenda could ever represent Pinellas County.”
Shortly after Crist released his statement, Jolly released one of his own, saying he hasn’t endorsed anyone in the presidential election, but still didn’t come out with a refusal to back Trump entirely.
In an interview with Sunshine State News, however, Jolly confirmed he does not and will not endorse Trump for president.
“Trump doesn’t have my support in terms of an endorsement,” he said.
Furthermore, the freshman member of Congress said he would not even vote for Trump if he had to go to the polls now.
“If the election were today, I would not support Donald Trump,” he said. “I don’t know where I’ll be in November, but I don’t see a pathway to support Donald Trump.”
Jolly’s past with Trump has been something of a roller coaster over the past year. When the Republican presidential primary field was larger, Jolly’s criticisms of Trump were much fiercer. At one point, Jolly even called for Trump to withdraw from the primary entirely, citing his “bullying” and “bigotry.”
When Trump became the presumptive nominee, Jolly’s position softened to more of an uncertainty, and he vowed he wouldn’t stop his party from nominating Trump.
Jolly says his main priority is putting his beliefs over party affiliation, and his beliefs on Trump don’t seem to call for an endorsement.
Joining the chorus of Republicans who once spoke out against Trump but have come back to give him the thumbs-up isn’t on Jolly’s priority list.
“[The party has] such concern that they want me out there leading a parade for him and my answer is that I think we want political leaders who put conviction ahead of party,” he told SSN. “Just because he’s a Republican nominee doesn’t mean I’m going to support him.”
Jolly’s not the first one to have reservations about the GOP’s presidential nominee. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been vehemently anti-Trump since entering the presidential primary, and has refused to support the GOP nominee.
Other Florida politicians have thrown their weight behind Trump and have fully supported his run for the Oval Office, but Jolly says if the scenario was different -- and Trump was running for a different office -- those people wouldn’t be so quick to back him.
“There are situations we’ve seen in the past where the party has abandoned candidates, just not at this level,” said Jolly. “If this was another office, I think the party would have abandoned [Trump.]”
Crist’s own involvement with Trump is another side to consider, since he and Trump have actually associated in the past. When Crist was a Republican running for Senate in 2010 (before he became an Independent candidate), the Donald actually gave Crist $4,800 for his campaign. Trump also held two fundraisers for the former Florida governor during that time. Even before then, Trump was scheduled to host a fundraiser for the former Florida governor when he last ran for that office in 2005.
"He could not have been more gracious or more hospitable," Crist told the Tampa Bay Times about his first encounter with Trump. "The guy cares about Florida. He has a residence in Florida and spends a lot of time in Florida."
This is just the beginning of what is bound to be an ugly race between Crist and Jolly, and the stakes are high. Crist hasn’t held office since 2010, and the natural politician in him is chomping at the bit to get back into the public sphere.
The odds are in his favor in CD13, which favors Democrats, but Jolly has been known to muster votes and knock out big names in Florida politics as he did with Alex Sink during the special election, which put him in office in 2014.
The general election will be Nov. 8.