Democrats have long struggled to nab the Republican-dominated Congressional District 13 seat covering parts of Pinellas, including the deep red North County and Seminole neighborhoods.
Now it seems they have an influx of talent eyeballing the seat.
Eric Lynn, a former adviser to three different secretaries of defense, has already filed to run. Former Tampa City Council member and locally acclaimed progressive Mary Mulhern announced she’s definitely in.
Now St. Pete City Council member Darden Rice has said she’s seriously considering running for the seat.
A Facebook page called “Draft Darden” cropped up over the weekend just as news was surfacing about Rice’s consideration. She told SaintPetersblog she’d make a decision after returning from a vacation later this month.
With less than a week under its belt, the Draft Darden page already has 144 page likes.
While it’s not clear who launched the Facebook page, it boasts official-looking photos of the first-term City Council member as well as a complete bio.
Rice earned her B.A. from Eckerd College in 2000 and was honored with three awards from the school, including The American Studies Award of Honor, the Association of Cultural Studies at Eckerd Collegiality Award and a 2007 and 2014 Outstanding Alumni Award.
The Facebook page also lists some of Rice’s civic work in recent years, including board participation on the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, where she served as an appointed board member even before being elected to Council. Rice is also the past president of the League of Women Voters St. Pete.
The page only has three posts so far. Two are links to media coverage of her potential bid for Congress. Another, the first post published to the Draft Darden Facebook page, plays on the carpetbagger fears stemming from two previous failed campaigns for the congressional seat.
Former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink lost against incumbent David Jolly during the Special Election to replace Bill Young after he died following more than four decades in office. In the next election Democrats tapped political newcomer Ed Jany to run for the seat. Jany later withdrew from the race, leaving Jolly running only against a third-party candidate and winning handily.
Both Sink and Jany moved to the district from outside. Jany was also a party convert, having formerly been a member of the GOP.
Now the list of Democrats running for the seat in 2016 is also full of outsiders. Mulhern plans to move to Pinellas County to run, but told SaintPetersblog that move has been in the works for a long time.
Lynn is a graduate of St. Petersburg High School, but moved away from the area for college and then for work after. He moved back to the district last fall.
Though Lynn was raised in Pinellas County and is a product of Pinellas County schools, Rice would be the only candidate who could entirely avoid the carpetbagger argument that would likely come from GOP opposition.
But it could be a tool for Rice supporters should she choose to run in a primary.
“Pinellas families deserve representation from someone who lives in, works in and knows Pinellas County,” the Facebook page reads in the “about” section. “Draft Darden Rice to be our voice in Congress.”
The page is growing in support.
“Totally behind this,” wrote progressive activist Chuck Terzian.
Another active St. Pete Democrat, Freddy Cuevas, wrote “SUPER excited at the prospect of Darden running!!!!”
One of Rice’s longtime allies, Jasmina Forcan, wrote, “Go Darden Go!”
But the potential bid has some Rice supporters worried.
“Only if she does not have to give up her Council seat while running,” Rebecca Falkenberry posted on the Facebook page. “She would be great in Congress but would hate to lose her voice on St. Pete council.”
Falkenberry need not worry on that front. Rice could continue her service on St. Pete City Council to campaign for Congress. If she lost, her seat would be safe.
That’s a reasonable fear for Rice fans to check into considering the uphill battle facing a CD13 race. Jolly has earned wide support during his time filling Young’s shoes and much of that support has crossed party lines.
However, Jolly is rumored to be considering a bid for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. If that happens, the race for Pinellas’ representation on the Hill is wide open.
Retraction: A previous version of this story contained a sentence where Ed Jany’s name was inadvertently replaced with David Jolly’s. David Jolly did not relocate to Pinellas County to run for CD 13, but Ed Jany did. We apologize for any confusion this error caused.