Election Day 2018 might be 18 months away, but Berny Jacques is already rolling up his sleeves and trying to get ahead of the pack for the Republican candidacy in Florida’s 66th House District. That means knocking on doors, meeting with donors, getting his name out and locking up the district early.
For Jacques, the road to Tallahassee begins now.
The 29 year-old Republican officially kicked off his House campaign Thursday evening in Clearwater for the district which spans parts of Largo, Clearwater, Seminole, and the north Gulf Coast Beaches.
Addressing a crowd of around 80 people, Jacques unveiled the slogan which will carry him on the campaign trail: “Protect Pinellas.”
As a former prosecutor and attorney, Jacques knows about getting involved and making sure his community is safe.
“We protect Pinellas every day in the trenches, and it’s something that I cannot wait to do in the halls of Tallahassee,” Jacques said.
Protecting Pinellas means going “back to basics”: creating safe neighborhoods, fostering smart schools and promoting an even stronger economy.
Jacques has spent the last few years working with Pinellas County Republicans, lending a helping hand to many as they aim for political office.
He may be young, but his message is clear and as red as all the other heavyweight Republicans twice his age.
He supports law enforcement officers, wants the government to uphold Second Amendment rights and is onboard with Florida’s school choice program, which gives many low-income and minority students the opportunity to attend private schools.
"No child's zip code should determine the outcome of their future," he said.
The son of Haitian political refugees, Jacques told the story of his parents, who came to America to escape violence and find a better life. They raised three children, graduated college and got jobs.
Jacques believes in the America of opportunity.
“We live the American dream and I know that it is still possible for anyone to achieve it if they’re willing to work for it,” Jacques told the crowd.
Jacques already has one opponent already: Pinellas County Republican Party chairman Nick DiCeglie. A third, unknown candidate is expected to enter the race shortly.
DiCeglie, considered a more establishment candidate with ties to Tallahassee and the Republican Party of Florida, will undoubtedly put up a strong fight against Jacques and any others who jump in the race.
DiCeglie will have organized money, a long list of political allies and an established rapport with many members of the Florida Legislature.
Jacques is already operating his campaign in a much different fashion -- his campaign manager, Kayla Wade, is still in college. He’s also working in tandem with fresh blood in politics with the Pinellas County Young Republicans.
The HD 66 candidate already has also found an admirer in former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, considered a maverick Republican outsider, who says Jacques has the winning formula for a GOP candidate.
“His message is what Republicans need to sell right now,” Jolly told Sunshine State News. “He represents the better angels of our party.”
Jolly warned Jacques could be in for a ruthless campaign, chock full of hit mailers and vicious attack ads.
“The House campaigns in Tallahassee have a way of making the NRCC look like small ball,” he said.
“He’s going to capture the heart and soul and excitement of the community about [his] candidacy. They’ve got to see your authenticity,” Jolly explained. "He’s got that. This is a candidate that can lay it all on the line, introduce himself to people and overcome the challenges of an establishment opponent.”
Bolstered by his supporters’ energy, Jacques was already itching to get started.
“I’m blown away,” he told SSN. “I’m [really] excited.”