GOP Candidates' Battle for Pinellas County Congressional Seat Just Gets Hotter
Around the State
The attacks are ramping up in Pinellas County in the battle for the congressional seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.
State Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg, went on the attack against primary rival David Jolly on Thursday, demanding he returns money he made lobbying for Faneuil Inc. which runs call centers for President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. The two Republicans and retired Marines Gen. Mark Bircher are battling in the primary on Jan. 14. The winner will take on former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee, and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the general election on March 11.
Peters pointed to Jolly, an attorney and lobbyist who worked as an aide to Young, making between $80,000 and $110,000 in 2012 from Faneuil, a Virgina-based company which has been specializing in call center, data entry and back-end operations for the last 20 years.
“Even for a Washington insider like Jolly, it takes a special kind of dishonesty to publicly oppose Obamacare while personally profiting from it,” said Peters. “That’s why I am calling on David Jolly to return his $80,000 in Obamacare profits and apologize for blatantly misleading the public. The simple truth is: there is no talking point clever enough, no public relations strategy grand enough and no war chest big enough to hide the fact that David Jolly lobbied for Obamacare.”
But Peters took flack of her own as the Jolly campaign team pushed back on Thursday.
“This is categorically false, and is nothing more than a desperate attempt by Ms. Peters to dodge her position against an immediate repeal of Obamacare,” said Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Jolly, in a statement sent to Sunshine State News on Thursday. “David Jolly worked for this company in 2011 and 2012 to advocate for transportation interests in Florida. He was not registered to work for the company in 2013 and had no affiliation, connection or knowledge of whatever their goals or objectives were after that point – let alone in the state of Washington. A statement that their CEO will attest to.
“Ms. Peters should acknowledge that she is wrong,” added Bascom. “David Jolly has never supported or lobbied on behalf of Obamacare and is actively calling for the immediate repeal of Obamacare.”
Bascom also provided to Sunshine State News a statement from Faneuil: “David Jolly and his firm did not lobby on Faneuil’s behalf for any issues relating to the Affordable Care Act.”
Jolly himself weighed in on the matter on Thursday afternoon.
“As the campaign moves forward, there will undoubtedly be some noise from our opponents who want to take away our momentum because they know that our message is resonating. But rest assured, we will not be deterred,” Jolly wrote in an email sent out to supporters on Thursday afternoon. “Earlier today, Kathleen Peters held a press conference making claims that are categorically false and intentionally misleading. Ms. Peters is trying to confuse the voters by saying that I represented a company that profited from Obamacare, and by relation, I profited from Obamacare.
“Let’s meet this claim head on,” Jolly continued. “That is categorically false, and is nothing more than a desperate attempt by Ms. Peters to dodge her position against an immediate repeal of Obamacare. I worked for this company in 2011 and 2012 to advocate for transportation interests in Florida. Even Alden J. Eldredge, vice president of Business Services and general counsel of the company, Faneuil Inc., backs up this fact by saying I did no work related to the Affordable Care Act.
“I want you all to hear from me personally that I have never supported or lobbied on behalf of Obamacare, and I will continue to actively calling for the immediate repeal of Obamacare and nothing Ms. Peters throws at me will deter me from this core belief,” Jolly told his supporters.
As Peters and Jolly exchanged shots, one of the most prominent conservatives in Florida came out swinging for Bircher. Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a favorite of conservatives and the tea party movement, endorsed Bircher late on Wednesday over Jolly and Peters.
“From my vantage point off Capitol Hill, it appears the Republicans have lost the will to fight, and the desire for victory,” West, who rose to lieutenant colonel in the Army, wrote. “Is it any wonder? So few congressional members have served in uniform. Brigadier General Mark Bircher is exactly the type of citizen-servant our country needs on Capitol Hill – and precisely the type of leader the left would like to suppress.”
Praising Bircher’s military experience, West trashed the other Republicans in the race, hitting Jolly for being a lobbyist and bashing Peters for being pro-choice.
“Brigadier General Bircher understands his oath of service has no statute of limitations,” West insisted. “Americans must rally behind leaders like this warrior and send a message that we want principled men and women, those who have been willing to lay down their lives for this great nation, in our nation’s capital.”
As the Republicans continue to duke it out, a new poll shows Jolly with the lead over his two rivals. St. PetePolls released a poll of likely Republican primary voters on Thursday which shows Jolly leading the pack with 35 percent followed by Peters with 30 percent. Bircher places a distant third with 16 percent while 19 percent remain undecided. The poll of 660 likely Republican primary voters was taken on Dec. 18 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percent.
On the Democratic side, Sink continues to get the support of her party at the state and national levels. Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant tried to raise money for Sink on Thursday and she sounded confident about her candidate’s chances.
“We’ve got a big chance in Central Florida to elect another Democrat to Washington – Alex Sink is someone I know will be a fighter for our families and who won’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right," Tant insisted on Thursday. “We’ve got a lot of work on our hands this coming year. But Alex’s special election will be the first true test of just how strong Florida Democrats' grassroots team really is.”
Sink also got the backing of national liberal group the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund on Thursday.
“Alex Sink has a strong record of bringing communities together with businesses to protect our environment and improve Florida’s economy," said Gene Karpinski, the president of the LCV Action Fund. “She’s been a true ally on the local level, and LCV Action Fund is pleased to endorse her for Congress so she can bring her leadership to the national level.”
“Florida’s land, water and air are the greatest assets of our state – and in Pinellas our beautiful beaches are the jewels of our community and one of the most important drivers of our local economic growth,” Sink said. “Nothing has shown the important connection between our environment and our economy more clearly than the disastrous BP oil spill, which is why I was proud to lead efforts to get families and businesses on the road to recovery while working to hold BP accountable. I’m honored to receive this endorsement, and look forward to protecting Florida’s natural resources today, and for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.”
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.