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Rick Baker decides not to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

After months of contemplation, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said Tuesday that he will not run for the Republican nomination for the CD 13 seat being vacated by David Jolly.

“After a significant amount of thought, prayer and review, I have decided not to run for Congress this November,” Baker said in a statement.

Baker has not been in politics for over five-and-a-half years, after he ended an extremely successful run as mayor from 2001-2009.

“In the past I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead an effort that resulted in significant positive change for our city, progress that continues today. I hope to find a path enabling me to publicly serve again, but I have concluded that Congress is not that path. I am very thankful to those who have encouraged me to run and for those who have provided me with input and support as I evaluated and considered this decision.”

Baker has been courted several times since, but has always ended up opting to remain in the private sector. For the past couple of years he’s served as president of the Edwards Group, led by powerful St. Petersburg business man Bill Edwards.

Baker’s announcement would seem to freeze the field of candidates competing for the Pinellas County congressional seat for the 2016 election, with former Governor Charlie Crist the distinct frontrunner. Two polls showed Crist leading Eric Lynn, a former Defense Department official in the Obama administration, by more than 50 points. 

With Baker out, the race is almost certain to be decided in the Democratic primary.

Last summer the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the CD 13 seat was one of eight that was drawn up in violation of the Florida Constitution, and would have to be redrawn. The Court provided instructions for the Legislature to no longer have have Kathy Castor’s CD 14 seat in Hillsborough County cross over into Pinellas. While the upshot of that was that Castor’s seat has less Democrats in it, the CD 13 seat has a lot more, making it on paper an extremely difficult task for a Republican to now pick up the seat. That was a strong factor in Jolly opting out of re-election this year, and fighting to win the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.

Mark Bircher remains the only Republican in the race. The 62-year-old retired U.S. Marine Corps reserve brigadier general from Largo finished in third place behind Jolly and Kathleen Peters in the GOP special election primary in January of 2014.

Lynn used the occasion to champion his own campaign against Crist.

“Rick Baker clearly felt that Pinellas families are in no mood to elect another obstructionist Republican to Congress,” Lynn said in a statement. “That’s why the DCCC made Florida’s 13th District red-to-blue and committed to investing real resources in this race. Voters across our district tell me they want a strong progressive who will stand up for Pinellas County values, champion women’s rights and support President Obama’s legacy. I am leading in grassroots support, endorsements and primary cash in my run for the Democratic nomination because I am that candidate.”

Crist’s statement was typical Crist: low-key, provincial, classy.

“Rick Baker is a good man, a good friend, and an influential part of our community here in St. Pete. I wish him nothing but continued success.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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