Republican voters in Florida’s 13th District head to the polls today to determine the GOP candidate in a much-watched special election. David Jolly and Kathleen Peters, considered the frontrunners in the primary fight, together brought in more than $75,000 in the final weeks leading up to today's election.
Jolly, Peters and a third candidate, Mark Bircher, are competing in the GOP primary for a chance to face Democratic candidate Alex Sink, Florida’s former chief financial officer, in a March 11 special election. The contest will select a replacement for longtime Rep. Bill Young, a Republican who died in October. The Democratic Party establishment, which has cleared the primary field for Sink, threw her a heavyweight-headlined D.C. fundraiser in December.
The March general election promises to attract national attention to a swing district in a swing state. Young, an influential chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, kept Florida's 13th Congressional District in Republican hands for 42 years, but nonpartisan political pundits Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook rate the race a tossup and recent election returns show why: President Barack Obama won the district by a bare 50.2 percent of the vote in 2012.
Although Jolly and Peters were considered the ones to watch in the GOP primary, according to a recent St. Pete Poll survey, Peters has slipped to third place while Bircher edged into second. Jolly continues to hold the lead, with 37 percent.
Jolly outraised Peters during the final quarter of last year, bringing in $388,450 to her $169,926. But since that final filing on Christmas Day, Peters has brought in $40,900 compared to Jolly’s $35,700, according to our Real-Time FEC tracker.
Of that $40,900, Peters raised $34,900 between Jan. 3-10, including Jan. 3 haul of $10,000 from Midland, Texas residents James and Pauline Henry. Peters also received a $1,000 donation from the campaign committee of former Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif.
Since the final 2013 filing, Jolly benefited from two $1,000 donations from PACs associated with the defense industry: Cobham Holdings Inc. PAC and Lockheed Martin Employees’ PAC. And the Friday before the primary, he received $5,000 from the Victory Political Action Committee, the leadership PAC associated with the late Rep. Young.
Bircher raised $58,444 during the final quarter, but has not brought in any significant contributions since that cutoff.
Jolly, a former lobbyist and a staffer in Young’s D.C. office, benefited from an endorsement from the congressman’s widow, Beverly Young. (She also voiced her support in a December campaign commercial.) But the Youngs’ son, Bill Young II, broke from the family line and, in December, endorsed Peters, currently a Florida state representative. The next week, Young co-hosted a fundraising luncheon – attended by a fistful of Republican House members – for Peters at the Capitol Hill Club in D.C.
Bircher is an Iraq War veteran and commercial airline pilot. Among those endorsing Bircher: Allen West – an outspoken conservative who only lasted one term as a Florida Republican congressman despite his fundraising prowess.
Jolly was a lobbyist for Van Scoyoc Associates and Three Bridges Advisors, lobbying on appropriations, defense, healthcare and education. According to his Influence Explorer profile, Jolly has given $65,177 to politicians and political organizations.
He's used some of his campaign funds in recent weeks to buy advertising time on several of Tampa's broadcast stations, records on Political Ad Sleuth show. So far, Jolly appears to be the only candidate in the race buying broadcast time; Ad Sleuth does not include cable buys in the Tampa area.