STATEWIDE — Former Pinellas County Republican Congressman David Jolly sounds more serious than ever about mounting a third-party candidacy for Florida governor in 2022.

“I likely will be an independent candidate for governor in 2022,” he told Spectrum News on Wednesday night. 

What You Need To Know

  • Ex-Congressman David Jolly says he "likely" will run for governor in 2022

  • Jolly is expected to run as an independent instead of as a Republican

  • His final decision is expected later this year

  • The move could boost the viability of a 3rd-party candidate, strategist says

With his wife expecting the couple’s second child within the next four weeks, Jolly said his immediate focus is on his family but that he’ll begin looking at making a formal decision about running for governor later this year.

To say the odds against a third-party gubernatorial run are formidable would be an understatement, a sentiment of which he is well aware.

“We’re not naïve about the challenges about doing so as an independent, but we do know when voters register to vote in Florida, roughly a third choose to reject the two major parties,” Jolly said. “And I think that we could run an independent campaign that recognizes that sometimes the answers are on the left, sometimes on the right, and sometimes in the middle, but what Florida wants is a state that comes together on solutions that fix some of our greatest policy challenges.”

Non-Party-Affiliated (NPA) voters make up a little more than 26% of the Florida electorate, while Democrats have less than a 1-point lead over Republicans in overall party registration in the state (36.4% to 35.6%), according to the Division of Elections website.

Based on how Republicans have dominated the top-of-the-ticket elections in Florida over the past decade and recent poll numbers, Governor Ron DeSantis would have to be considered the favorite going into bid for reelection next year. His poll numbers have fluctuated over the past year as he’s dealt with the challenge of leading the Sunshine State through the pandemic. 

Among Republicans nationally, DeSantis has become a star, as exemplified by his robust showing at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last month, where he finished only behind former President Donald Trump in a straw poll of potential 2024 presidential GOP contenders.

Jolly briefly served in Congress with DeSantis, and the two also competed against each other for a U.S. Senate seat in 2016 before they both dropped out after Marco Rubio reentered the race.

When asked how he would run against DeSantis if he becomes a candidate, Jolly said simply that they have “a different view of government.”

St. Petersburg-based political strategist Barry Edwards dismisses Jolly’s electoral chances against DeSantis, but said that his biggest achievement in the race could be to boost the viability of a legitimate third-political party that is more centrist-oriented than the two major parties.

“I think that this is a long-term game in play by David Jolly to start a new organization — show viability — you know. If they get 20%, 30%, then they can say, ‘Wow. There’s a chance.’ ”

Jolly is the executive chairman with the Serve America Movement (SAM), which describes itself as a vehicle for a new political party “for the millions of Americans who are tired of choosing between the lesser of two evils.”

Following his 2016 loss to Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, Jolly flirted with running on a bipartisan gubernatorial ticket with former South Florida Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy in 2018. He’s become nationally famous as a contributor for NBC and MSNBC, a fact that Edwards said makes him persona non grata with the majority of Florida Republicans.

“He’s going to take votes from Charlie Crist or from Nikki Fried or Anna Eskamani or whoever the Democrats get to run,” Edwards said.

Democrats remember the last time an independent with name recognition battled for a major political office in Florida: 2010, when Charlie Crist jettisoned the GOP to take on Rubio for a U.S. Senate seat. Fueled by the emergence of the Tea Party, Rubio crushed Crist by more than 19 points, while Democrat Kendrick Meek finished a distant third in the race.

“If we’re not seeing that there’s a viable path, I’m not going to ask Floridians to follow me into an independent campaign,” Jolly said. “I’m not interested in just running for office and either becoming a spoiler or just having a nonviable race as an independent. But if we believe that there’s a viable path to winning the governorship in 2022, then we’re going to run.”