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Congressman David Jolly coasts in Republican primary, then spars with Democratic foe Charlie Crist

In Pinellas County, incumbent David Jolly skated to victory in the 13th Congressional District Republican primary Tuesday over retired Marine brigadier general and airline pilot Mark Bircher.

Jolly netted 75 percent of the vote to Bircher's 25 percent, according to early results.

First elected in a hotly contested March 2014 special election, Jolly said his attention to constituent service and political independence have served him well.

"I think we demonstrated for the past 2½ years that we work as hard as we can for everybody," Jolly said. "We leave it all on the field every day."

Jolly, 43, will now face a much tougher fight to extend his political career as he pivots to take on a formidable Democratic opponent in November, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist, 60, who lives in St. Petersburg, didn't face a primary opponent.

The jockeying between Jolly and Crist started immediately Tuesday night. Crist attempted to tie the congressman to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Jolly shot back that he's never endorsed Trump, adding that Crist is untrustworthy.

The Jolly-Crist race will be on the national radar as one of the most closely watched congressional races in November. The newly drawn district tilts Democratic after a court-ordered boundary shift brought in heavily Democratic areas in St. Petersburg like Midtown, Childs Park and other neighborhoods formerly represented by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat.

In the 16th Congressional District's Republican primary, Vern Buchanan took a step closer to another term in Congress, easily besting a political novice.

The district now covers a swath of Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River after court-ordered redistricting. The changes brought about 150,000 new voters into Buchanan's district, which he's represented since 2006.

Buchanan, 65, had strongly criticized the redraw last year, but the new boundaries didn't provide much of a hurdle for him Tuesday. He received 73 percent of the vote in Hillsborough County.

Overall, Buchanan got 81 percent of the vote in unofficial results, compared with 19 percent for James Satcher, 37, a minister and missionary from Parrish who was making his first bid for political office.

"I thank the voters in today's primary," Buchanan said in a statement. "I am humbled by their support for my agenda to end Washington dysfunction, grow the economy and keep Americans safe."

The traditionally Republican-leaning district, which also covers all of Manatee County and the northern half of Sarasota County, also had a Democratic primary.

Sarasota lawyer Jan Schnei­der, 69, bested Brent King, 50, a commercial airline pilot who lives in Lakewood Ranch.

Schneider received 76 percent of the vote to King's 24 percent in unofficial results.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

Congressman David Jolly coasts in Republican primary, then spars with Democratic foe Charlie Crist 08/30/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2016 11:24pm]
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