In the final days before the filing deadline, Republicans remain unsure whether lobbyist David Jolly has cleared the GOP field in the competitive special election to succeed the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.
In recent days, state Rep. Kathleen Peters expressed interest in running for the St. Petersburg-based district, and she has yet to back off.
Democrats cleared the field early for former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is all but certain to win the party's nod on Jan. 14. Republicans rivals to Jolly have talked about running, but all of them have declined bids so far.
Except for Peters.
"From day one, we have been running as if we will be having an opponent for the primary and are moving full speed ahead," Jolly spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said in a Friday interview with CQ Roll Call.
A Thursday phone message seeking comment from Peters' office was not returned.
Many people who matter in the region's GOP politics — donors, elected officials and Young's widow — quickly lined up behind Jolly after he announced his candidacy two weeks ago.
But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden would not rule out the possibility that Jolly could face competition on Friday morning.
Jolly worked for Young from 2000-2006 in both his personal office and for the House Appropriations Committee, according to Legistorm. Peters came up through the ranks of municipal government in South Pasadena, eventually rising to mayor.
"It would be an interesting contrast between one with experience in Washington and another with their feet on the ground here as a mayor and also in Tallahassee," St. Petersburg-based GOP consultant Jack Hebert said. "In terms of levels of experience, there's obviously a contrast."
"The obvious elephant in the room is the male-female makeup and knowing ultimately that one will face Alex Sink, a female and how that dynamic plays out in an area that is older and tends to skew female," he added.
The filing deadline is Tuesday, so a Peters' decision is imminent either way. If she does run, Peters will embark on a mad dash to the primary just eight weeks later. The general election is March 11.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has made a strong push to make mail-in absentee voting dominant in Pinellas County campaigning, multiple Republican consultants told CQ Roll Call. Consequently, it is central to any organized campaign plan.
Ballots are tentatively scheduled to go out in the coming weeks. Voters can also head to the polls early, from Jan. 4-12.
If Peters runs, she will have a name identification advantage, thanks to holding elected office. That said, Jolly's head start in the race has allowed him to raise money and put a campaign team in place.
Multiple sources say that as a former Young staffer and lobbyist, he has a solid fundraising Rolodex.
Bascom confirmed that he has raised $150,000 in his first two weeks of campaigning. But Tampa is an expensive market, and the price of airing commercials will only increase during the holiday advertising season.
“We will be going up on TV before the primary," Bascom said. "We fully intend to go into every household, knock on every door and make sure everyone meets David Jolly.”
Also on Friday — just four days before the filing deadline — Politico flagged donations Jolly made to Democrats, including now-incarcerated former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Ill.
Bascom stressed that Jolly did not donate to Democrats in competitive races against Republicans. Jackson held a safe seat for Democrats on the south side of Chicago until he resigned last year under a cloud of corruption.
“ asked David for his help," Bascom followed up in an email to Roll Call. "It turned out he was a fraud and belongs in jail. He regrets having contributed to him.”