The special election to replace deceased Florida Congressman Bill Young in Florida's 13th congressional election is getting more national coverage than your average House race. In one of Florida's few true swing districts, the outcome of the race between Republican David Jolly and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink has been closely watched.
But one key fact about Jolly's past had gone unreported until the past 24 hours. He once killed a man. It's the February version of an October surprise.
On June 9, 1989, 30-year-old Blair W. Ropes was on the side of a road in Land O'Lakes Florida after his motorcycle broke down. Jolly, then just 16, was driving home from a movie with a friend in the passenger seat when he struck Ropes with his car. Ropes died from his injuries.
Police filed no charges. Ropes was wearing dark clothing, and the incident happened around 9:30 at night. They believed Jolly had not seen the man. Jolly stopped after the crash and got help for Ropes.
The Tampa Bay Times points out that the story perhaps had not come to light before now because reports on the accident at the time had misspelled Jolly's name as "Jolley."
Jolly caught wind that the Times was working on breaking the news, so he came out ahead of the article by giving a interview to a local TV station last night.
"It was a tragedy that occurred when I was a child," Jolly said. "I was 16 years old."
He added that the incident shook him to the core and that it took him several years to deal with.
He did, however, suggest that politics were at play.
"I don't know who has pushed this story, but I believe it to be a heartless individual who has clearly never lost anyone close to them or experienced such a tragedy," he said.
"Honestly... for someone to bring this up 25 years later in a political campaign dishonors both Blair and [his girlfriend] Sandra and their families and their heartbreak, and it disrespects what ultimately is a human tragedy that no one should ever have to experience."
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Jolly, a former lobbyist, is locked in a tight race with Sink. The Pasco County district had been controlled by Republican Young for decades, but most recent polls show Democrat Sink with the lead. Political analysts believe the race might come down to voter turnout. The election is slated for March 10.
The story is not without some precedent. Laura Bush was involved in a traffic accident at the age of 17 that left a man dead. That didn't negatively affect her husband's career. However, Mrs. Bush was not the candidate, and the story was well known and did not come to light two weeks before an election.