Charlie Crist is in Rick Baker‘s sights, but when will the former mayor take the shot? That’s the question on many politicos’ minds in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
Like Iceman in “Top Gun,” Baker appears to have his target lined up, but just “can’t get the angle.”
There’s little doubt in my mind that Baker will eventually run in CD 13. Not that the former St. Petersburg mayor is telling me much. He knows that my wife and I are close to Crist and so we’ve both agreed that when it comes to this race, I’m definitely not going to be on the inside. Under any other circumstances, I’d be urging Baker to run, run, run, but in this race I am conflicted.
That said, I speak with Baker enough, as well as those close to him, to know that he’s eager to run.
More important, I believe Baker will run for Congress against Crist because he can’t run in 2017 against current St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, which I believe is what Baker would really like to do.
Although Baker is still a popular figure in the city, the political demographics of St. Petersburg have changed so dramatically since he left office that he would struggle to knock off the incumbent Kriseman, who has solidified his progressive base. St. Pete is now a Democratic town and any conservative, particularly one as staunch as Baker, would face an uphill battle winning over huge swaths of voters.
Moreover, Kriseman does not have some of the flaws Crist has – party-switching, two campaign losses in a row – that were exposed by Rick Scott in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
So when does Baker take the damn shot?
Florida’s presidential primary is in the books, so the oxygen is returning to the room.
There would be no better time for Baker to announce than right after the first fundraising quarter ends March 31.
But here are a couple of considerations that may be forcing Baker to switch to guns.
First of all, Baker should look at what happened to his friend Jeb Bush on the presidential trail as a cautionary tale. Bush was befuddled by the new realities of the political environment. I fear Baker could run into the same buzz saw. Not from Crist himself, but from the outside interest groups that play so heavily in competitive congressional races.
Sure, Baker may be ready to campaign door-to-door along the streets of St. Pete, but is he ready to go to war on Facebook and Twitter? Is he ready to be memed to death? Is he ready to be lampooned on MSNBC?
Bush was not ready. Baker better be.
Second, Baker needs to, um, let go of the fantasy that he’s going to be a priority of Paul Ryan. Ever since the House Speaker made a high-profile visit to Ambassador Mel Sembler‘s home last month, the buzz is that Ryan is personally recruiting Baker to run in CD 13. That may be true, just as its true that Nick Saban personally recruits each of the players to his football program.
The question will be what kind of support Baker receives AFTER he’s an official candidate. And what kind of support will he receive in October and November?
To be honest, this is the blindside of Baker’s political intelligence – the side that led him to endorse Herman Cain for president in 2012. He’s just too darn optimistic.
Ryan and the National Republican Congressional Committee tell EVERY viable candidate thinking about running in a swing seat that they’ll be there for them when the rubber meets the road. But how many of these candidates are left at the altar when the first poll comes out showing a double-digit deficit.
Speaking of polls, that should be what’s most encouraging to Baker. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling confirmed earlier numbers from St. Pete Polls that, at least in a Democratic primary, Crist is more popular than ice cream. Two polls, almost identical numbers. But, that St. Pete Polls survey also showed that Crist was only narrowly leading Baker in the general election. So if you have faith in the SPP poll because it’s been confirmed by PPP, you almost have to concede that Baker has a legitimate shot at beating Crist in the Democratic-leaning CD 13.
Yet the biggest question mark for Crist and Baker has nothing to do with either man: It’s who will be at the top of the ticket for the Democrats and Republicans. What does Baker do with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket?
You will not hear me suggest Trump can’t be a positive for down-ballot Republicans. However, this report from Lauren French of POLITICO suggests that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that while Trump has the potential to turn out new Republican voters … [he] is privately advising GOP candidates in tight races – this would be Baker were he to run – to keep their focus at home and ignore Trump. Meanwhile, House Democrats are staking much of their campaign strategy on the belief that Trump would repel female and minority voters, … and help [Ds] begin to dig out from deep in the House minority.
Put it this way, how many times will Rick Baker have to answer a question from the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith about the latest outrageous statement from Trump. Baker, the pragmatic, principled conservative faces a hard decision about how close he wants to stand next to Trump.
For his part, Crist is almost sanguine about a possible Baker candidacy.
“I think anybody who wants to run should run,” he said. “That’s what democracy is all about. And so we’ll see how that plays out.”
In other words, take the shot Iceman or, as Maverick said, get the hell out of there.