Fatal Accident, 'Disgusting' Immigration Comment Rile Florida Swing District Race
It may have been one of the shortest races of the 2014 campaign season, but with just one week left until the special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District, voters learned that one candidate killed someone decades ago, the other found herself in hot water over a controversial remark about immigration and both sides added hundreds of thousands more to their campaign war chests.
Republican David Jolly and Democrat Alex Sink are nearing the finish line in the race to represent one of the most competitive swing districts in the country. They are vying to replace the late Republican Rep. Bill Young, whose death in October opened up a seat that hasn't been occupied by a Democrat in four decades.
In preparation for next week's final battle over the district that includes St. Petersburg, here's a look at the state of the race as both candidates near the finish line:
Jolly's February Surprise
In what could be called a February surprise, Republican candidate David Jolly was recently forced to publicly acknowledge that he killed a pedestrian while driving when he was 16 years old.
According to a report published by the Tampa Bay Times , Jolly struck 30-year-old Blair Ropes with his car on a Florida road in 1989. Jolly was reported to not have seen Ropes walking down the road, given that Ropes was reportedly wearing dark clothing. Ropes was pronounced dead on the scene, and no charges were filed against Jolly.
"This was a tragic accident where a man lost his life and a family lost a loved one. It continues to weigh heavy on my heart after 25 years and we owe the family our deepest sympathies every day," Jolly, who is now 41 years old, wrote in an email to ABC News.
The Tampa Bay Times reported this incident after receiving an anonymous tip. The newspaper also released a report published the day of the accident, and noted that the original report misspelled Jolly's last name as "Jolley," which could have kept the story from surfacing earlier in Jolly's Congressional campaign. Although Jolly is not pointing any fingers, he said he strongly believes the tip was politically motivated.
"The facts of this accident have been public record for years," Jolly wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. "It is disrespectful and hurtful to the surviving family that someone would now dig this tragedy up to use for political gain."
Sink Finds Herself in Hot Water
At last week's non-televised candidate debate, Democrat Alex Sink found herself at the center of controversy after she gave an unflattering response to a question regarding national immigration reform.
Although Sink made it clear that immigration reform was an important talking point for the district, she linked the issue to local industries in a way that some found offensive.
"[Immigration reform is] one of the main agenda items of the beaches chamber of commerce, for obvious reasons, because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers," Sink said. "Where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? We don't need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers."
Jolly, was among those who said he was offended by the comment. At a news conference last Thursday, Jolly stated that Sink's response "reflect[ed] a bigotry that should … disqualify her from serving in the United States Congress." Jolly also added that he thought "it was a disgusting comment."
In an email to ABC News, a representative from the Sink Campaign stated that the portion of Sink's comment that was cited "misrepresents Alex's full statement, which emphasized her commitment to giving hard working people a chance to achieve the American Dream."
Over the span of about four months, more than $10 million has poured into the district, showing that running a major campaign in Florida comes with a hefty price tag.
Last Friday, Sink announced that she raised $1.3 million since the last reporting period, bringing overall fundraising total to slightly more than $2.5 million.
Jolly raised $638,000 since the Jan. 11 primary election, but fell short of matching Sink on the fundraising front despite bringing in a total of more than $1 million.
According to information provided by Open Secrets, outside spending in the race has reached upward of $6.6 million, the majority of which came from donations to Jolly's campaign through contributions from the National Republican Congressional Committee and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Home Stretch
Both Sink and Jolly have busy schedules of events between now and next Tuesday, when voters of Pinellas County will cast their ballots.
On Tuesday, Jolly traded in his suit and tie for jeans and rolled sleeves when he waited tables for Pinellas County voters at Lenny's, a popular local restaurant.
Not to be outdone, that same day Sink announced her latest endorsement - Jon "Bowzer" Bauman of the musical group Sha Na Na, who will campaign for Sink across the district.