Send in the PACs: David Jolly leaves Senate race, will run for reelection against Charlie Crist

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The political domino effect of Trumpocalypse 2016 has officially hit in Pinellas County with U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, announcing he's leaving the crowded Republican primary for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's seat to instead run for reelection against former Governor Charlie Crist.

Jolly's announcement coincides with a pending announcement from Rubio on whether he'll run to keep his Senate seat after trying to abandon it for his failed presidential bid. Jolly had previously said he would drop out of the Senate race if Rubio gets in, but it's still unclear whether the latter will (polling suggests he maybe shouldn't).

Jolly made it official during an announcement in a large hangar near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, a small engagement to which only media and a handful of supporters were invited.

“Today, without a political rally, without a lot of fanfare, I have a simple request of my neighbors, and of my community," he said. "Today I'm asking my community simply for the opportunity to keep doing my job. Today I am announcing that I will seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives.”

He said that while traveling the state campaigning in the Senate primary, he was constantly trying to do work for the district, and wants to continue doing so.

“I've got unfinished business. We all have unfinished business together. From securing greater healthcare for veterans to securing better options for private sector flood insurance relief to approaching very difficult issues of national security and [domestic] security that balance constitutional protections with the need to have safe communities and a safe country.”

Most of all, he said, he hopes “to change the tone of politics,” in a year when partisan vitriol seems at an all-time high—especially in the wake of the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub.

But keeping his seat could be an uphill climb.

He's running in a district that recently was reshaped in order to comply with a 2010 state constitutional amendment mandating fair districts in the face of rampant gerrymandering. For Florida's 13th—the district he represents—that meant adding back in the southern tip of Pinellas County, including St. Petersburg's predominantly African-American (and Democrat-leaning) southside residents as well as colorful lefty enclaves like Kenwood and downtown.

Those areas had previously been tucked into a safe Democrat district made up mostly from Hillsborough County, but with their inclusion the 13th now leans Democratic.

While Jolly initially cited electability odds as his reason to run for Senate, things have obviously changed. Polling has even shown he may be able to pull it off against Crist, who has extensive name recognition and the right letter after his name.

“I came from a school of politics that, I really believe, person to person, you win races," he said. "The reality is, it's a district that, as I understand, President Obama won by 12, I believe Charlie beat Rick Scott by 14, and by entering this race I believe as a sitting Republican House member we might be in the most challenging race for a Republican in the country. In a very expensive media market against a very qualified candidate in Charlie Crist, who has shown that he can win races. So I am not naive [about] the challenge we are undertaking. I don't know where the polls are, and I don't really care, because I actually think if I keep doing my job right, the politics will take care of itself.”

Building consensus, obviously, will be a thing here as he appeals to the district's moderate sensibilities, and Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, will likely have to take a similar tack.

As with Jolly's first run, a special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young (Jolly won against former state CFO Alex Sink), there will likely be millions in outside money to fuel attack ads against either candidate. So even if the candidates stay nice to each other (which they won't; Jolly does not like Crist and Crist's camp has already sending out emails attacking Jolly for having been a lobbyist), the local media market will be flooded with nasty attack ads. (Though the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is supposed to help GOP candidates get elected to Congress, is apparently not going to help him this time around.)

Jolly declined to criticize Crist on Friday, other than to say he donated to the latter's campaign and later asked for his check back when Crist switched parties (the campaign didn't oblige, he said).

“I wouldn't even bother to draw a contrast," Jolly said. "Charlie can run on his record and I can run on mine.”

For Jolly, of course, there's also an orangutan in the room (sorry, orangutans): having the same letter behind his name as presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

On Friday he clearly sought to distance himself from Trump. He said he doesn't plan to be at the Republican National Convention for what will likely be Trump's speech, and when asked if he plans to join any campaign stops Trump may make within the district, Jolly offered a flat "no."

To do so, obviously, would counter his message of bipartisanship, consensus building and changing the nasty climate in Washington.

Despite that message, protesters crashed his announcement. They stood near a checkpoint on the road leading into the hangar where he spoke. At least one held a sign criticizing draft legislation he penned that would bar those viewed as potential terrorists from purchasing guns while giving those who think they should be barred from buying guns some recourse.

It's a compromise, he said, something we should all be doing more often.

“If I've got anything to say this week about the politics of blame, it's that we should abandon that today," he said. "The solutions of blame on the left, the solutions of inaction on the right will no longer work. And for those who notionally decide they want to organize protests on either side of the aisle, my answer is, put down your signs, sit down and let's talk.”

Even as his critics sought to be heard Friday afternoon, a handful of high-profile Republicans came out to hear his announcement, among them former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and State Reps. Chris Latvala, R-Largo and Cris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

The latter two were elected in 2014.

Latvala said he hasn't been looking forward to being a Republican down the ballot from Trump in November, but sharing the ballot with a likable Republican incumbent offsets that some.

“With Congressman Jolly running, I'll have somebody above me on the ballot that I can be proud of and stand shoulder to shoulder with, and not have to explain every week the different things that he says,” he said.

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