While there are still a few weeks to go, few people in Florida politics have had had such a good 2014 as David Jolly. Written off a year ago as a hapless candidate unlikely to beat Alex Sink, Jolly secured for himself a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee this week and his star looks ready to rise in Washington, D.C.
Only a year ago, Republicans were looking for other candidates to run in the special election to replace Bill Young. Names like Will Weatherford, Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes and Rick Baker were kicked around on the Republican side. Certainly all of them were far better known than Jolly in the Pinellas County district.
Jolly had some handicaps going into the primary. Despite working for Young, the late congressmans family was divided on whether Jolly or another Republican should run for the seat. A majority of Republicans -- 55 percent of them -- voted for other candidates in the primary. Jolly was far less known than Sink when things began. Sink did better at fundraising than Jolly and both sides had to turn to outside groups.
But Jolly pulled it off, beating Sink by 2 percent despite a strong showing by Libertarian Lucas Overby. Even more impressive, Sink and other strong Democrats like Jessica Ehrlich stayed out of the recent election. After a series of Democrat blunders, Jolly ran over Overby in the rematch earlier this month.
Since winning a seat in Congress, Jolly has been able to get plenty of notice for a freshman. Social conservatives raised their eyebrows when Jolly announced his support for same-sex marriage, winning national notice on the issue. But, on most other areas, Jolly has been a reliable conservative. Using his spot on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Jolly was front and center in going after Eric Shinseki and the Obama administration in the VA medical center scandal. Jolly was also critical of efforts to arm Syrian rebels. This week, instead of simply targeting Obamacare and calling for its repeal, Jolly zeroed in on the individual mandate, looking to end that part of the health-care law. With Republicans leading the Senate in 2015, Jollys bill should have a better chance on Capitol Hill than the usual Obamacare repeals.
Now Jolly has won himself a spot on the Appropriations Committee, one of the most sought after assignments in Congress. Of course that was the committee his mentor Young sat on for decades and eventually chaired during his long tenure in Congress. Pinellas County is lucky to have two congressmen in a row sitting on Appropriations and Jolly, who just turned 42 on Halloween, could be in Congress for years to come.
Jolly looks primed to be a force in Washington. While he represents a swing district, his big win earlier this month, his moderate social views and now his spot on Appropriations should better position him to help keep his seat.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.