Jolly drops out of Senate race, will face Crist to keep seat

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly dropped out of the Senate race on Friday and will run for re-election, a decision that sets up a competitive contest between former Republican governor and current Democrat Charlie Crist.

Jolly’s decision comes as speculation increases that Republican Marco Rubio will run for re-election. The failed presidential candidate originally said he wouldn’t seek a second term, but party leaders have urged him to change his mind. Rubio said this week he will discuss his future with his family over the weekend. The deadline to qualify for the ballot is next Friday.

In a Facebook posting, Jolly told his constituents, “I have unfinished business. We have unfinished business together. Today I’m asking you for the opportunity to keep doing my job. I ask for your support in seeking re-election to the House of Representatives.”

Jolly originally decided to seek Rubio’s seat after his district was redrawn. It now favors Democrats and includes all of Crist’s hometown of St. Petersburg. Until Friday, it appeared Crist had a clear path to the office. That now changes. Jolly has positioned himself as a moderate Republican and has faulted the extreme ideologies of both parties for the gridlock in Washington.

Crist served as a Republican governor from 2007 to 2011. He ran for Senate in 2010 instead of running for a second term. He dropped out of the Republican primary after falling behind to Rubio and ran as an independent. After losing the election, he registered as a Democrat and in 2014 sought his old office with his new party, narrowly losing to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Crist decided to run for Florida’s 13th congressional district after it was redrawn. He carried the new district against Scott with more than 54 percent off the vote. President Barack Obama carried the redrawn district with nearly 55 percent of the vote in 2012.

Jolly showed up at Crist’s announcement last fall and afterward called Crist “a huckster.”

“I have served with a lot of bad members of Congress. Charlie would be the worst,” Jolly said then.

Crist hasn’t forgotten.

“Unlike what my new opponent did when I announced, I’m not going to start name calling like Donald Trump,” Crist said in a statement emailed by a spokesman. “Pinellas (County) needs less Donald Trump, and more civility to tackle issues like the rising cost of health care, gun violence, failing schools, and protecting our environment.”

Crist released his first online ad about an hour before Jolly’s announcement, posting the 30-second spot on Facebook. It criticizes Washington politicians for not listening to voters.

“Congress should be listening to you — the people. I always have and I always will,” Crist says in the ad.

Jolly won’t be the only Republican candidate to have a change of heart if Rubio gets in the race. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera will drop out of the race, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis will run for re-election in a heavily GOP district that has a crowded primary.

Jolly had declared himself the front-runner in the Senate primary and participated in a debate with Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. The candidates originally said they planned four such debates ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

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This story has been corrected to show the Florida primary is Aug. 30, not Aug. 24.

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