Jolly appeared in a candidates' forum Thursday night held by the Pinellas County Young Republicans in Pinellas Park. The forum was notable for the absence of Kathleen Peters, the state representative who has been slipping behind Jolly in the polls in recent weeks.
Referring to Alex Sink's reported $1.1 million fundraising total, Jolly said he was surprised it wasn't $2 million.
"Because this race has always been about how much the national Democrats and the DCCC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz can pump into Pinellas County to make sure she takes this seat from Pinellas County. We're not going to allow that happen. At the end of the day, we are going to win this race because Alex Sink and the national Democratic Party are wrong on the issues and don't reflect the values of the people of Pinellas County," as the audience roared in support.
Although this was only the second candidates' forum in this truncated GOP campaign, Peters' campaign contacted organizers earlier in the day to say that a scheduling conflict involving the late December death of her brother prevented her from attending (the announcement that she would not be participating drew boos from the audience).
That left Jolly and retired Marine brigadier general, attorney and airline pilot Mark Bircher to debate the issues. Which they did, after first showering praise upon each other. Peters' name was never mentioned, except when the issue of Obamacare was discussed. That's where she and Jolly have engaged in a bitter exchange about who loathes the issue more intensely.
There is a strain of the Republican Party that is against foreign intervention, with Rand Paul perhaps the greatest advocate of U.S. restraint on the national scene. Panelist David McKalip asked if the 2011 U.S. military engagement in Libya (a move strongly encouraged by Republicans like Marco Rubio and John McCain) was constitutional. Bircher said he couldn't say definitively since "I can't get my government to tell me what happened," while Jolly said that the U.S. intervention was flat out wrong.
Jolly then blasted President Obama regarding the Syria situation that surfaced last summer. He said that Obama had "significantly diminished the respect that he holds on the national security world stage," by initially saying that the U.S. would not abide Bashar al-Assad's government using chemical weapons. After they apparently used such poisons against their own civilians last August, however, Obama backed down from military action after Russia's Vladimir Putin intervened with a deal that mandated that the Middle Eastern nation dispose of all of its WMDs. (Polls showed the U.S. strongly opposed against such military action.)
Perhaps Jolly's finest moment came toward the end of the hour-plus forum, when he said any serious discussion of balancing the budget would ultimately require cutting some of our entitlement programs, since discretionary spending simply doesn't make up that much of the pie that is the federal budget.
He said economic growth is the only way to get to a balanced budget in five years, but he stressed that he wasn't about to do anything to anyone's Medicare. "Part of being a fiscal conservative is taking responsibility. We have to take responsibility for the problems that our government has made to individuals. It is not the individuals' fault that they have relied on Washington." He said that Congress needs to address entitlement programs, but "we don't do that by changing the rules of the game on beneficiaries who have paid into the system and have been made promises by Washington."
Although Bircher's anti-federal government stances project him as being in the Tea Party camp, he's also refreshingly open-minded on a lot of issues. When asked by panelist Peter Schorsch (who along with McKalip posed questions to the two candidates) about an editorial in Thursday's New York Times that argued that the Obama administration should offer NSA leaker Edward Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency, Bircher said that although it was hard to make a definitive call, he ultimately agreed with the Times editorial.
Jolly did not, saying that he believed Snowden committed a treasonous act.
The two also differed on a couple of lightning-round questions posed by Schorsch. Bircher said he supported lifting the 50-year-plus embargo against Cuba, and that Fort Myers area Republican Congressman Trey Radel should run for re-election.
In contrast, Jolly seemed like the establishment Republican, saying that he wants to continue the sanctions and that he thought Radel should resign (as does most of the Florida Republican Party establishment).
One of the funniest exchanges occurred after Schorsch asked Bircher about a recent profile in the Tampa Bay Times by political editor Adam Smith which referred to the retired general as "breathtakingly naive" when it came to his electoral chances in the primary election.
Jolly said at least that was better than when Smith wrote that Jolly's respect for Jack Latvala was "breathtakingly stupid."