ST. PETERSBURG — As U.S. Rep. David Jolly and rival Charlie Crist wrapped up their debate in front of the Suncoast Tiger Bay club on Thursday, a familiar face re-entered the 13th Congressional District race:
Beverly Young, the wife of former longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who served the district for decades until he died in 2013. The widow used Facebook to deliver this message:
I "can't believe Jolly is still saying Bill is his mentor, when Bill would be totally disgusted and ashamed how he has handled his district of 50 years," Beverly Young posted on Facebook.
That's because Jolly called the congressman — his former boss — a mentor during the debate.
Her Facebook post also included a photo of what appeared to be a Florida ballot. And on that ballot, the oval next to Crist was shaded, indicating that Beverly Young picked the Democratic candidate over Jolly, the Republican incumbent who was a longtime aide to her husband.
The ballot also showed that she picked Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
Young has been fiercely critical of Crist in the past, and once told him to stay away from her husband's memorial service. She also had a falling out with Jolly shortly after he won the special election in 2014 and laid off congressional staffers who once worked for her husband.
"The congressman wishes her nothing but the best," Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Jolly's campaign, said of Young.
Meanwhile, as ads attacking Jolly flood the airwaves, Crist told the more than 150 Tiger Bay members that he believes in transparency and hasn't been flooded with money from outside groups in Washington, D.C.
"I'm not getting much from Washington, D.C.," Crist said. "I'm running against an incumbent."
But Crist has received nearly $2.5 million from Democratic groups in the nation's capital, election records show. Fighting outside money has been one of Jolly's hallmarks in the race.
Before the debate, Jolly held a news conference calling on Crist to support legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from personally seeking campaign contributions. That legislation has a name: "The Stop Act." It was introduced by Jolly, although it has received scant support from other lawmakers.
Crist told the gathering he would support overturing the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the door for corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections.
Jolly and Crist opened the debate by countering each other's attacks.
Jolly declared he doesn't support privatizing Social Security or the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. He stressed he has devoted his three years in office to trying to build a consensus between Democrats and Republicans, while focusing on constituents services for Pinellas residents.
"We've been able to get that done through the legislative process," Jolly said.
Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, was upbeat about his years in Tallahassee as a former governor, attorney general and state senator.
"Yes, I have run for lots of office," he said. "It really does give me joy."
It didn't take long for presidential politics to enter the debate.
Democrat Wengay Newton, who is running for State House District 70, asked each man to rate their party's presidential pick.
Crist described Democrat Hillary Clinton as experienced and ready to lead the country, adding: "I would rate her a 9." Jolly refused to rate Trump or Clinton, instead criticizing Trump's foreign policy stances and Clinton's economic policies.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday also released a poll showing that Crist leads Jolly by a 50-39 percent margin. The 11 percent of undecided voters lean Democratic by a 37-20 percent margin. The telephone poll quizzed 400 likely voters from Oct. 2-4 with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
Jolly dismissed it as a push poll: "I'm glad they're feeling so confident."
Times staff writers Adam Smith and Charlie Frago contributed to this report. Contact Mark Puente at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.