Democrats have picked a seemingly electable, however unknown, challenger to run against Republican Congressman David Jolly, who represents Florida's 13th District, in 2016.
Eric Lynn, a St. Petersburg native, announced his candidacy yesterday. Lynn, a former Pentagon advisor, said in a media release he's running to stop the gridlock in Congress.
"I'm running for Congress to fight for good-paying jobs and the pathways to bring them about —currently blocked by politics and politics alone," he said in a written statement. "We have the answers; they just need to be extracted."
Right out of the gates he's embracing veterans' issues; obviously not a controversial thing to do in the least, but apparently an important one in Pinellas County, which is home to many retired military veterans.
"It was a true honor to work with the men and women in uniform at the Pentagon for the last six years," said Lynn. "My advocacy for those who courageously serve our country will be a lifetime commitment."
So it would seem Democrats got it right this time. The last two challengers they ran against Jolly were both from Hillsborough County.
Florida Congressional District 13 is not Hillsborough County. It comprises most of Pinellas County, except for south St. Pete, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Not that there's any legal requirement for a candidate to reside in the district, but it tends to sit better with voters if he or she does.
Former state CFO Alex Sink, who lives in Thonotosassa, seemed like a shoo-in when she announced she was running in late 2013, months ahead of the March 2014 special election to replace the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young. Jolly was an unknown former aide to Young, but at least he was from the friggin' district, and was able to win by 1.5 percent. Democrats then tried to run an obscure Republican-turned-Democrat from Tampa, Ed Jany, against Jolly in the November general election, but Jany dropped out within a couple weeks after questions were raised about his education credentials.
Of course, running against an incumbent who's proven to be somewhat of a work horse in Congress is going to be tough. Since Jolly was elected, his focus on constituent service and bipartisanship has only increased his name recognition.
As political scientists we interview for these types of stories tell us time and again, name recognition is everything (followed by fundraising, eh?).
Fortunately for Lynn, he has well over a year to glad-hand everyone from Fort De Soto to Honeymoon Island more than once if the DCCC hires him a good scheduler.
But even if Lynn can raise his profile to Charlie Crist-esque levels (minus the baggage), he still has to deal with the fact that while environmentalists and comprehensive immigration reform activists may not like some of Jolly's positions, the incumbent hasn't really pissed anyone off too terribly.
In fact, although he is firmly in the 'defund Obamacare' set and has been since the start, yesterday Jolly said Governor Rick Scott really ought to work with the federal government to expand Medicaid in Florida. Out loud. And in public.
"Numbers are numbers," he said. "It doesn't have to be political."
That's probably something most Democrats find pretty refreshing.
In order to really alienate the district's voters Jolly would have to go full Ted Cruz, and surely he's well aware that you never win a general election by going full Ted Cruz (except in Texas, obviously).
Although, it's unclear whether or not Jolly will have a Republican primary challenger who will try to appeal to the ultra right (the people who actually vote in primaries and special elections) by pointing out how moderate Jolly can be.
Lynn insists he'll be able to draw some distinctions between himself and the incumbent in the months to come.
"Pinellas families deserve better representation - I will fight for jobs that pay a livable wage, ensuring veterans get the jobs and healthcare they deserve, protecting our environment and beautiful Pinellas shores, and standing up for a woman's right to make her own medical decisions." said Eric Lynn. “There will be clear contrasts in this race between me and David Jolly and I look forward to making my case to voters when it comes to national security, the economy, our environment and women’s rights.”
Another advantage Lynn does have, though, is that while primaries tend bring out the barnacles, general elections, namely presidential ones, tend to turn out Democrats, who only seem to come out every four years, even when there's weed on the ballot.