Charlie Justice says he’s still endorsing Ben Diamond, but Eric Lynn has his support


After we reported this morning that Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice had switched from endorsing Ben Diamond in the  House District 68 candidate Ben Diamond to being neutral in the race with fellow Democrat Eric Lynn, we received a call from Tom Alte, Diamond’s campaign manager, saying that Justice was still endorsing Diamond.

We went back and reviewed the statement sent to us by Justice on Thursday. In fact, Justice does that, “while Ben asked for and received my endorsement, both have my friendship and support.”

So, to get it straight – Justice endorses Diamond, and is giving his friendship and support to Lynn – and Diamond.

A number of Democrats who previously had announced their support for Diamond when he was the lone Democrat in the race, such as Charlie Crist, Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath, announced that they had back away from that stance once the race had become a competitive primary.

The Eric Lynn campaign had also sent SPB a statement recently that Justice had also changed his position to being neutral. Apparently they – and we – were incorrect.

. This was his Justice’s statement, sent via Facebook:

We were all surprised when Representative Dwight Dudley recently announced his intention not to seek re-election to the Florida House. I was not surprised and very pleased when our friend Ben Diamond announced his candidacy. I immediately responded yes to his endorsement request. We were then later surprised when our friend Eric Lynn announced that he was suspending his congressional campaign and that he too would seek the now open legislative seat. I have always encouraged Eric to seek the right elected office. It’s an embarrassment of riches to have two fine young men running for the same seat and I look forward to having the winner serve us well in Tallahassee. So while Ben asked for and received my endorsement, both have my friendship and support. Now if you live in District 68, you get to do something I don’t – you get to actually vote for one of these gentlemen. You have 166 days to get to know them and make the best decision for our community. Get to it.

Diamond and Lynn are running in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican JB Bensmihen.

Justice is facing his own reelection campaign this year. The District 3 County Commissioner is running for a second four-year term against Republican Mike Mikurak this fall.



Mayors ask Pinellas to reconsider Sunday morning alcohol sales ban

Some Pinellas mayors want the Pinellas County Commission to relax its ban on selling alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays.

Allowing sales earlier in the day, they say, is a matter of smart economics, a sign of a progressive region, and a tourist-friendly idea.

“In our minds, it’s just sort of a leftover law that doesn’t have any use anymore,” said R.B. Johnson, mayor of Indian Rocks Beach, of his council’s favorable stance on changing the rule. “We just felt that there was no good reason” to have that prohibition on the books anymore.

Johnson said he and his council did not see why people should have to postpone buying beer, wine or alcohol or why someone should wait to enjoy a mimosa or other drink while having breakfast or brunch at a local restaurant.

“It doesn’t make much sense,” Johnson said.

Under the current rule, sales of alcoholic beverages are banned before 11 a.m. on Sundays. That applies to grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses that sell alcoholic drinks. Under the ordinance, bars must remain closed between 3 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sundays.

The ban has long been a grievance for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Earlier this year, he approached County Administrator Mark Woodard about repealing the ban. Woodard suggested he take the issue before the Mayor’s Council. The council declined to act because not all mayors supported the idea and not all had broached the topic with their city councils. Instead, it was left to each city to ask individually.

Kriseman did so, making a formal request that the County Commission amend the ordinance to allow alcohol sales as early as 8 a.m. on Sundays.

County Commissioner Pat Gerard said the county had gotten two or three requests from some cities. Others, like Largo, claim to have no objection to the change.

“Neither the city commission nor the Largo police chief objected to the repeal, and, in fact, saw no significant impact of this change on the city of Largo,” Mayor Woody Brown wrote in a May 18 letter to Pinellas commission chair Charlie Justice.

It’s unclear if the request will have traction with county commissioners.

Gerard said she sees no problem with it.

“I don’t see why (Sunday) shouldn’t be like any other day,” she said.

Janet Long wasn’t sure there’s general support for the change. And, she said, it’s impossible to commit to one side until a proposal is in front of the commission.

“I don’t see a terrific outpouring for it,” Long said. “I don’t see what’s wrong with (the rule) now.”

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters was the lone vote against the idea at the Mayor’s Council. Any change, she said, should be on a city by city basis. And, she said, there’s no need for it. People know what the law is and should plan accordingly by buying their alcohol the night before, or wait until 11 a.m. Waters also noted that crime is up in some areas as are substance abuse, car jackings and other related issues.

“I don’t see that repealing the blue laws would improve the quality of life for the citizens of Pinellas,” Waters said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Kathy Castor is backing Ben Diamond over Eric Lynn in HD 68 race

Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor is endorsing St. Petersburg-based attorney Ben Diamond in the campaign for the open House District 68 seat.

“Ben is a strong leader on issues that matter to us in Tampa Bay,” Castor said in a statement released by the Diamond campaign on Thursday. “Ben’s work on the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014 shows he will be a good partner to work with in preserving our unique and beautiful Florida environment which in turn has such a great impact on the growth of jobs and our economy. I am confident he will make a great legislator and partner as we work on behalf of our friends and neighbors across our community.”

“Congresswoman Kathy Castor is an outstanding and hard-working leader in our community, and I am so honored to have her support,” said Diamond. “We need leaders in Tallahassee that will stand up to special interests and fight for our families and small businesses. I’m humbled that Congresswoman Castor is supporting our campaign to fight for what’s right for Pinellas families in Tallahassee.”

Diamond served as an attorney under Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and rose to serve as General Counsel to the Chief Financial Officer and Florida Department of Financial Services. He entered the race earlier this month, on the same day that Democratic incumbent Dwight Dudley announced he would not run for reelection.

Eric Lynn, a Former Defense Dept. adviser in the Obama administration, is the other Democrat in the race. Lynn dropped out of his race for congress vs. Charlie Crist to take on Diamond in the Pinellas County based HD 68 seat.

Castor joins former Senator and Governor Bob Graham and many local St. Pete and Pinellas Democrats in backing Diamond in the intra-party battle. The Diamond campaign notes that includes Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice. However, a recent statement issued from the Lynn campaign said that Justice is now neutral in the race (SPB has reached out to Justice for clarity).

The winner of the Diamond-Lynn battle on Aug. 30 will go on to face Republican JB Bensmihen in November.

Pinellas Commission’s next step in banning fracking – ban drilling wells

Pinellas commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to hold a public hearing on a proposal to ban fracking in the county.

The public hearing would be the final step before the commission would vote whether to enact an embargo. Although commissioners were wholeheartedly for the fracking ban, some wondered if the prohibition goes far enough. They wondered if the county should also ban exploratory well drilling in the county and the portion of the Gulf that comes under their jurisdiction.

“I think there’s factual evidence that well drilling in and around Florida is bad,” Commissioner Janet Long said.

Fellow Commissioner Charlie Justice agreed, saying, “I don’t think you will get disagreement with that.”

But rather than combine the two into one ordinance and perhaps enactment of the fracking ban so that the well drilling prohibition could be included, commissioners decided to go ahead with the June 7 public hearing. A proposal to ban well drilling in Pinellas could come before them later.

The proposal to ban fracking brought praise from several environmental activists who attended the meeting.

“All across the country, fracking has been a nightmare,” said Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida.

Rubiello, like the other activists and commissioners, pointed out the dangers of fracking. Fracking is a method of extracting gas or oil from the ground by drilling into rocky substrate and using high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to break up the rock to release the gas and oil.

The process uses a lot of water, damages habitat, frees up toxic chemicals and can cause water, soil and air pollution, they said. Danger also comes from the wastewater generated by fracking, which can pollute groundwater and contaminate soil if it is spilled.

In other business, commissioner, acting as the Lealman Community Redevelopment Agency, passed a proposed plan for improving the area to a commission meeting and to other agencies for final comment before the proposal is adopted.

Once passed, the 44-page document will become the framework for future improvements in the unincorporated Lealman area. The proposal has eight areas of concentration: economic development and innovation, retail and business investment, improved housing stock, infrastructure and transportation, communitywide curb appeal and livability, sustainability, health and safety, and the creation of a sense of place.

It also lays out strategies for reaching those goals. Those plans include increasing the number of fire hydrants in the area, creating a feeling of place for the community, and using façade grants and other incentives to encourage the renovation and rehabilitation of deteriorating housing stock.

Poll: Tough road ahead in Pinellas for Democrats Hillary Clinton, Charlie Justice, Janet Long

With months to go before the Nov. 6 general election, it appears that two incumbent Pinellas County commissioners could face a hard time keeping their seats, according to results of a poll released Monday.

Commissioner Charlie Justice (44 percent) holds an eight percentage point lead over Republican challenger Mike Mikurak (36 percent). But about a fifth of voters are undecided and could certainly sway the outcome of the election for the District 3 seat.

The poll results are more disturbing for Justice’s fellow Commissioner Janet Long, who drew an opponent last week in political newcomer Martin Hughes for the at-large District 1 seat.

The poll didn’t ask about the Long versus Hughes race. Instead, it asked respondents whether they feel favorably or unfavorably toward Long. Most – about 57 percent – were undecided and those who took a stance fell evenly between looking on her favorably (about 21 percent) or unfavorably (about 22 percent).

The news wasn’t much better when it came to party affiliation. About 55 percent of her fellow Democrats were undecided whether they view Long favorably or unfavorably. That’s only two percentage points less than the 57 percent of Republicans who were undecided.

However, more Democrats (about 27 percent) view Long favorably than do Republicans (about 16 percent).

The difficulties Democrats appear to be facing in Pinellas were echoed on the national stage. The two presumptive presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, are running neck and neck in the county. Each would receive about 43 percent of the vote in Pinellas with about 13 percent of voters saying they’re undecided.

Pinellas voters are much definite about where they stand when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana. A landslide 58 percent say they plan to vote in favor of legalization with about 33 percent opposed and about 9 percent unsure how they’ll vote.

The poll, by St. Pete Polls, was conducted Sunday of 758 likely Florida voters in Pinellas County using lists of registered voters as of May 3 supplied by the state of Florida.

Challenger Mike Mikurak leads incumbent Charlie Justice in fundraising for Pinellas Commission

Political newcomer Mike Mikurak is outstripping incumbent Charlie Justice by almost two to one when it comes to fundraising for the District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

As of April 30, when the books closed on the most recent fundraising reports, Republican Mikurak had raised $87,505 in cash contributions and another $7,103.98 from in-kind donations. In contrast, Justice, the Democrat, had raised $48,067 in cash and $$2,078.40 from in-kind donations, according to records from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.

But those figures don’t tell the whole story. Mikurak might have a big edge overall, but in recent months, Justice has been catching up.

Mikurak started his run in September by raising a hefty $34,091 in cash and the next month, he reported raising $13,348 in cash. Those have been his two best months so far.

Justice, on the other hand, who started his run in October, had raised only $100 by month’s end.

Justice was the clear winner in November – $16,117 cash to Mikurak’s $5,800.

Mikurak won the fundraising stakes in December with $11,300 cash contributions to Justice’s $3,385. He won again in January with $9,022 to Justice’s $4,650.

Since then, Justice has been in the lead.

In February, he brought in $,225 to Mikurak’s $2,675. In March, Justice raised $11,880 to Mikurak’s $7,000. And, in April, he edged Mikurak with $7,710 to the challenger’s $6,700.

The two are running for one of the three at-large seats on the Pinellas County Commission. District 3 covers St. Petersburg, Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and a portion of Pinellas Park. The election is Nov. 8.

In other Commission races, incumbent Janet Long has raised $65,318; incumbent Ken Welch, $32,535; and incumbent Karen Seel, $29,819. Long and Seel have no opponents. Sharon McManus had announced she would run against Welch, but withdrew, leaving him unopposed.

Lealman improvement plan moves forward

Back in June, county commissioners made a historic decision: They created the first community redevelopment area in unincorporated Pinellas County.

It was a move that, for years, was unthinkable with Pinellas officials saying they would never sanction a CRA in unincorporated Pinellas. CRAs were something cities did. That changed under a county administration and commission that’s become willing to try new things. In this case, the new thing – a county CRA – is the most recent effort to solve longstanding problems of poverty and deprivation in the Lealman area. It’s an area county officials have long struggled to help.

The Lealman CRA took another step forward Tuesday when commissioners passed a proposed plan to solve the region’s many problems to the Local Planning Agency for review. If the LPA says the proposal conforms to county planning rules, it will come back to commissioners for adoption.

“There’s nothing but excitement for the potential” of the CRA for Lealman, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said.

Ray Neri, a longtime Lealman activist, who serves as the head of the neighborhood CRA board, said residents are excited that real progress appears to be on the horizon. But it’s frustrating, he said, that the plan has to go through so many hands before the real work can begin.

“We live with this issue, and we’ve lived with it a long time,” Neri said. “It just takes time. I hate that it takes time.”

The unincorporated Lealman area spans a portion of south Pinellas County that’s located generally between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg and I-275 and Park Street. Kenneth City divides the area into two segments. Pinellas County has been working to revitalize the Lealman community since at least the late 1990s. Most of the efforts have focused on east Lealman, the portion on the eastern side of Kenneth City that’s generally west of I-275.

It’s an area of high poverty – one of the poorest in the county – that lacks infrastructure, including few fire hydrants, sidewalks and narrow streets flanked by steep ditches. Much of the area lacks street lights. Absentee landlords are in part responsible for the poor condition of some of the housing stock, which tends to be older.

The county, helped along by area activists, has had some success in the area. The amount of green space has been increased with the cleanup of Lealman Park on 54th Avenue N and the addition of Joe’s Creek Greenway Park. A street light district provides nighttime lighting in part of the area. Lealman boasts the unincorporated area’s first unified garbage service. Some new fire hydrants have been installed. And, recently, newly constructed apartments were opened for veterans.

But the area remained poor, depressed and was classified as a slum and blight area as part of the process for creating the CRA. A CRA uses money generated in the area exclusively for improvements in the area. The immediate oversight is provided by a citizens’ board, but the County Commission serves as the ultimate authority.

The first duty has been to come up with a plan. Once approved by the County Commission, it will be the framework used for future development and improvements in Lealman. The 44-page plan proposed for Lealman notes that the ultimate goal is making Lealman economically and socially self-sustaining.

It identifies eight areas of concentration: economic development and innovation, retail and business investment, improved housing stock, infrastructure and transportation, communitywide curb appeal and livability, sustainability, health and safety, and the creation of a sense of place.

Among the possible strategies for getting to those goals: creating a Lealman logo to use on marketing and other materials, purchase of property, installation of streetlights, increasing the number of fire hydrants, façade grants to encourage housing and business improvements, and the development of incentive programs.

HD 68 Dem candidate Ben Diamond raises over $28,000 in one week on the campaign trail

(Updated) St. Petersburg-based attorney Ben Diamond announced his candidacy for the House District 68 seat in Pinellas County on Monday, April 25. In the six days leading up to the campaign’s first fundraising deadline on April 30, he was able to raise an impressive $28,366.

“I’m running for the Florida House because I want to fight for Pinellas County families,” said Diamond on Tuesday. “I’m so thankful to have so many people reach out to join our team and pledge their support so that we win here.”

Diamond timed his announcement to run for the seat just hours after Democratic incumbent Dwight Dudley announced he would not be running for re-election to the seat in 2016. Accompanying Diamond’s statement declaring his candidacy was a bevy of high-profile names endorsing him, including

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant, House Democratic Leader-Designate Janet Cruz, former Senator and Governor Bob Graham, former CFO Alex Sink, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, St. Petersburg Councilmembers Jim Kennedy, Karl Nurse and Darden Rice, and Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long, and Ken Welch.

But that was before Eric Lynn, a Defense Department adviser in the Obama White House, announced that he too, would run for the open seat (on Tuesday, Craig Sher from the Lynn campaign wrote to inform that “many of the endorsements listed in your piece have withdrawn their endorsement of Ben Diamond and committed to neutrality in this race: Florida and Pinellas Democratic Party leaders; County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Pat Gerard; and Charlie Crist.”)

Lynn has hustled around the county over the past year to Pinellas Democrats in his run for the Congressional District 13 seat being vacated by David Jolly. However, with Charlie Crist’s entry into the race last fall, Lynn’s chances appeared remote for success, thus his recent announcement that he would run for the House District 68 seat.

“Fundraising continues to be strong for Eric Lynn since he announced his campaign for State Representative, and that’s on top of the over $600,000 cash on hand from before,” said Craig Sher, speaking for the Lynn campaign. “We picked up right where we left off.”

In his statement, Diamond said he was focused on moving forward to combine his team for the months ahead.

“The first few days of a campaign are about planning for the road ahead and building our team,” Diamond added. “We have a strategy already in motion involving dozens of local leaders, activists, elected officials, and Democratic supporters all working to spread our message. I’m truly humbled by the overwhelming support.”

The Democratic primary is set for Aug. 30. Joseph Bensmihen is running on the Republican side.

Here’s where sh*t stands — the ‘Democrats can’t keep it together’ edition

For an entire eight days — EIGHT DAYS — local Democrats had their sh*t together.

On April 25, state Rep. Dwight Dudley announces he will not seek re-election. Hours later, the well-liked Ben Diamond announces his candidacy for Dudley’s seat along with the endorsements of almost all of Pinellas’ Democratic elected officials. The seamless transition was almost Republican in its efficiency.

Then, on May 3, Eric Lynn, heretofore a candidate for the 13th Congressional District, announces that he is dropping out of that race to run against Diamond in a Democratic primary.

Eight days. That’s how long the Dems kept it together. Instead of an automatic berth for one of their rising stars — Diamond — there’s now the prospect of an expensive, messy primary.

The honest truth is Lynn is the odd man out this election cycle, which sucks because he’s obviously an intelligent, capable candidate.

What strikes me about Lynn is a feeling I have about a lot of people making moves in downtown and northeast St. Petersburg: He is certainly FROM St. Petersburg, but he’s not OF St. Petersburg. Rick Baker, Jeff Brandes, Charlie Justice, Darden Rice … all of these pols are OF St. Petersburg.

Lynn is this cycle’s Jessica Ehrlich.

Maybe Lynn can transfer enough of the money he raised for his congressional campaign into a committee he can use to push his legislative bid, but it just feels like Diamond has more support from state and local Democrats.

And for eight whole days, that meant something.

Speaking of the money Lynn raised for his congressional campaign, we hear Lynn wants to keep a big chunk of it — as much as $400,000 — in reserve for when (his thinking, not mine) Charlie Crist tires of serving in the U.S. House.

It says something that Tom Alte and Meagan Salisbury, the local Democratic consultants du jour who were working for both Diamond and Lynn, decided to go with Diamond in HD 68.

Another thing about Lynn that irks me, although it’s not about Lynn per se, is the thinking that Lynn should have challenged Brandes for his state Senate seat. Right, because going up against the Brandes machine — probably the best-oiled operation in Tampa Bay politics — would have been easier than running against Diamond, a first-time candidate. It does not matter what the partisan or voting performance breakdown of the district shows, Brandes would have chewed up Lynn.

SPOTTED not long after he announced he was not running again for the state House: Dwight Dudley: eating ice cream outside of Locale Market in Sundial. Dudley is now the most relaxed Democrat in Pinellas County.

It’s remarkable to think about the number of events which have had to occur to put Charlie Crist on the verge of returning to elected office.

As one of the people who stood by Crist late into election night in 2014, I could not have imagined then that he would ever again have the opportunity to serve.

But then Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young died.

And then David Jolly pulled off a remarkable upset to keep Sink from winning CD 13 (if Sink had won in 2015, she’d have blocked Crist from running in 2016 because she would not have given up the seat no matter how it was redrawn).

And then Jolly decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

And then Rick Baker decided not to run for Congress.

And then Lynn decided to drop out of the race.

All of these events, concurrent with the landmark redistricting decision by the Florida Supreme Court, came together to give Crist one last bite at the apple.

Hopefully, Crist realizes what a gift he’s been given and that he doesn’t throw it away in two years to run for governor.

Watching U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor introduce Crist last week at a “Women for Charlie” fundraiser in downtown St. Pete, I could not help but wonder why the Tampa Democrat does not run for governor in 2018? She’s just as capable and charismatic as U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, only she has been serving for longer and is, therefore, a more polished candidate. She does not have the same famous last name as Graham, but hers isn’t too shabby, either. Of course, she won’t easily give up her safe Democratic seat, but she could, at least, test the waters.

One Tampanian, who is playing three-dimensional chess about 2016 and 2018, is political consultant Adam Goodman. The award-winning political ad maker (soon to be living in downtown St. Pete, just as soon as construction on the Bliss building finishes) has done a masterful job getting his clients, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, earned media: Bondi has a possible running mate to Donald Trump and Levine as a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Didn’t William March of the Tampa Bay Times write that Tom Lee would likely announce last Monday his decision about whether he has decided to run for re-election? One Lee confidant told Florida Politics he’s not exactly sure where March got his information because the only thing Lee has made his mind up about is that he has yet to make up his mind.

As much as I don’t understand why Lee would want to return to Tallahassee for two more years during which he’ll be the odd man out (no high-profile committee chairmanship, no path to the Senate presidency), I predict he’ll file for re-election (and then run for CFO in 2018).

The race to replace Tampa’s Dana Young in the Florida House is already shaping up to be an expensive bruiser.

While Rebecca Smith and Jackie Toledo are squaring off on the Republican side, David Singer is carrying the Democratic banner.

Singer is a Tampa-based land use attorney who was involved in the Go Hillsborough transit tax campaign back in 2010. Like Smith, this is his first run for office. Toledo came up short in her bid for a Tampa City Council seat in 2015.

One month into his campaign, Singer is already turning heads.

Singer announced Thursday he had raised over $47,000 since declaring his candidacy for House District 60.

Of course, he’ll need all the cash he can muster. Smith raised over $81,000 in her first month as a candidate in March, while Toledo has raised more than $50,000 since starting to fundraise in January.

As much as it is a shame that Angela Rouson won’t attempt to succeed her husband in the Florida House, it will be interesting to watch Wengay Newton throw bombs from the back of the chamber.

Now that the Tampa Bay Times has killed off its rival, the Tampa Tribune, will any Republican state legislative candidate running in a competitive seat ever again receive the editorial board’s endorsement?

Eric Lynn out of running for CD 13, into running for HD 68

Reading the writing on the wall – also known as the polls – Florida Congressional District 13 Democratic candidate Eric Lynn is jettisoning his race for Congress, and has announced he will run in the state House District 68 seat in Pinellas County recently vacated last week by Dwight Dudley.

“Today begins a fresh start in a new race with new opportunities. I am proud of the excellent campaign we ran for Congressional District 13 here in Pinellas County, which is projected to elect our first Democratic Congressman in over 50 years.  With my decision to run for State House, Charlie Crist and I will forego spending almost a million dollars each against each other in a Democratic primary. I am honored to help ensure that both State House District 68 and Congressional District 13 elect strong Democrats who will fight for the good of the community and the values that we share.”

As Lynn said, his exit means that Crist will probably no longer have to spend much money in a contested Democratic Primary this August and could very well skate to winning the now Democratic friendly district seat easily in November.

Crist was all smiles, now that he no longer has a Democratic challenger in his race to serve in Washington for the first time in his political career.

“I’m grateful to Eric Lynn for his public service and I’m also proud of my friend Ben Diamond, another great public servant,” he said in a statement. “With today’s news, Pinellas County now has two great and qualified candidates in Florida House District 68, and I trust the voters to nominate the candidate that will best fight for fairness, great schools, our environment, and new high-wage jobs. Our Party will be unified in November.”

“I’m happy because that’s going to be a Democratic pick up,” added Pinellas County Democratic chair Susan McGrath. “Charlie Crist will represent the people of district 13 well. He’s going to be another voice of sanity that we need in Congress right now.”

Much more intriguing is the fact that a number of prominent Pinellas County Democrats got out in front of endorsing attorney Ben Diamond in the HD 68 race last week, just hours after Dudley announced he would not be running for the House in the Pinellas County seat.

Democrats who have already announced that they are endorsing Diamond include Crist, Alex Sink and Mayor Rick Kriseman. In the case of Kriseman and McGrath, they had already backed Lynn in the CD 13 race.

Rumors had been circulating for weeks that the Florida Democratic Party had reached out to Lynn to drop out of the CD13 race, where he is trailing in some polls to Crist by some 60 percentage points, to instead run for a state legislative swing district race where his odds were considerably better of him getting elected. He steadfastly refused those entreaties, until now.

McGrath said she was just getting used to the idea that two new and talented Democrats – Diamond and Lynn – were now opposing each other, less than nine days after Dudley said he wouldn’t run for the seat.

“The bottom line is, Democrats are going to keep that seat,” she said, adding that “this is a year where it’s good to be a democrat.”

“You look at what’s going on at the top of the ticket and on down. Presidential years are good for democratic turnout to begin with, so that’s always good for us to be able to pick up seats, and you add things like the Republican nominee being Donald Trump, who had such an incredible unfavorability index among key constituencies like women and Hispanics, and you know, NPA’s and all of that. This is going to be a great opportunity for us.”

There is one Republican who had filed to run in HD 68 – Joseph JB Bensmihen. Bensmihen announced on Tuesday that he has named Matt Lettelleir to be his campaign manager. Lettelier has worked on previous campaigns of Jeff Brandes, Frank Farkas and John Legg, and will be taking a leave of absence from the Pinellas County Republican Party, where he serves as the Director of Party Development, to join the campaign.

(An earlier version of this story reported that Susan McGrath had endorsed Lynn in CD 13 and Diamond in HD 68. That was before either had any Democratic competitor. She says she now is neutral in the HD 68 race. The story also reported that Lynn had been encouraged by Dwight Dudley, Peter Wallace and Charlie Justice to run in the race. That was incorrect. SaintPetersBlog regrets the error).