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Crist Revives Political Career With Win over Jolly

Steve Newborn
Charlie Crist mingles with the crowd after his victory speech

Charlie Crist completed his political comeback Tuesday, beating incumbent Congressman David Jolly for Congressional District 13. After his victory speech, the Democrat thanked the voters of Pinellas County.

“They have been very kind to me,” Crist said. “I'm going to work extremely hard for them and I want to make sure our seniors are protected, Social Security is protected, that we fight to protect our beautiful environment here in Pinellas County, it's the jewel of Florida.”

Crist rebounded from two straight defeats, for governor two years ago and for Senate six years ago. He was helped by a redistricting that shifted Republican Jolly's Congressional District into Democratic-heavy southern Pinellas County.

Once one of the state's most successful Republican politicians, Crist's career seemed all but dead after he lost an independent bid for Senate in 2010 and a run for governor as a Democrat two years ago. But he seized an opportunity when the state Supreme Court ordered Florida lawmakers to redraw congressional maps.

The new St. Petersburg area district became more heavily Democratic, making it difficult for Jolly to retain his seat and giving Crist an advantage in a home base where he is popular.

The victory gives Crist, 60, new political life — though a few steps down from his previous ambitions. He was once talked about as a potential vice presidential pick when John McCain won the Republican nomination in 2008 and many believed he had White House ambitions of his own.

Even in defeat, Jolly continued smiling, following up his concession speech by circling the Vinoy ballroom to thank a few hundred supporters in person.

Jolly said that he didn't get into politics to make it a career, but to make a difference, adding that he thinks he made a difference in his two and a half years in office.

Jolly received no financial support from the national Republican Party -- and he thinks that would have made a difference.

"We came within two or three points in a race that President Obama had won by eleven with zero, zero money from the national party,” Jolly said. “I think it's a lesson to the national party, I was hoping we could win and we could say, 'Washington, watch out,' but I think by losing by only two or three, I'd still say the same thing: 'Watch out, Washington,' because things are going to change."

Jolly, 43, has served in the seat since March 2014. He won a special election to replace U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died during his 21st term in office. Jolly previously served as an aide to Young and later worked as a lobbyist.

During his concession speech, Jolly broke down briefly, thanking his mentor. While there have been stories of dissension between Jolly and Young's family, Jolly said that he was grateful for what Young taught him.

"If you look at today's Congress, there's a reason David Jolly sticks out a little bit and it's because I carry on the legislative legacy of my predecessor, Bill Young," Jolly told reporters. "He taught me how to legislate, it's not in fashion in Washington right now, but it's an honor to have learned from him."

"Every Election Day, I stop by and pay tribute to Mr. Young and say thank you, win or lose, I am grateful everyday for what he taught me."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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