Charlie Crist. Darden Rice. Ken Welch. Dwight Dudley.
There are some prominent Democrats whose names have been floated in the media as possibilities to run in the CD 13 race next year, now that the district is likely to be much more advantageous for the party after the Florida Legislature redraws the district in advance of next year’s election.
The Florida Supreme Court declared last week that a total of eight congressional districts need to be redrawn, after they declared that they had been gerrymandered by the Florida Legislature in 2012, in violation of the Fair District constitutional amendments passed by the voters in 2010. Two of those districts reside in the Tampa Bay area.
While the new landscape has invited such speculation, there is a Democratic candidate who decided to run for the seat months ago, when it appeared much more challenging to defeat then Republican incumbent David Jolly.
That would be Eric Lynn, who worked as a high-level official under three secretaries of defense in the Obama administration from 2008-2014.
“We’re very happy with the way our campaign is going,” he told Florida Politics Thursday night. “I’m also very pleased with our political support, as well our grassroots support that we have throughout Pinellas County, which includes many of our Democratic activists, and I’m in this race to stay.”
That was Lynn’s direct response to being asked what he would do if Crist gets into the contest. The former governor has told members of the media that he is contemplating getting into the contest, the first time he’s ever said he would be content to become one of 435 members in the House of Representatives.
Lynn is a St. Pete native who began working for South Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutsch while attending Georgetown University Law School. He was later recruited by Pete Rouse, the chief of staff to then Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, to work with the freshman lawmaker on defense issues. Shortly thereafter Obama announced he was running for president, and Lynn moved from Washington, D.C., to Chicago to be part of the year-and-a-half-long campaign to get the first black man elected president.
The knock some have laid on Lynn is that he’s somehow not from the area, a sensitive spot for Democrats after the party’s 2012 candidate for CD 13, Jessica Ehrlich, was pushed out by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for Hillsborough resident Alex Sink in the immediate aftermath of Bill Young’s death in the fall of 2013.
But Lynn rejects any suggestion that he’s not homegrown.
“I’m from right here in St. Petersburg. My family’s been in Pinellas since before I was born, and I went to St. Petersburg High School. And so I’m running for Congress so that I can represent Pinellas values.”
Although he doesn’t have the name ID of a Charlie Crist in St. Pete (who does?), Lynn has been working hard in meeting up with neighborhood groups to get better known in the district. And he certainly turned heads a few weeks ago when his camp leaked the information that he was on schedule to raise over $400,000 in his first quarter of fundraising, an impressive number for any aspiring congressman, and more than Jolly did in the same period (the incumbent brought in just below $279,000).
Jolly is expected on Monday to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, making CD 13 an open seat for the second time in two years, after Young held down the seat for over four decades.
Among those who have contributed to Lynn’s campaign include Sink, former Speaker of the House Peter Wallace, former mayoral candidate Scott Wagman, Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner and high-profile St. Pete businessman Craig Sher.
Lynn says bread and butter issues like the economy and national security are among the top issues he’ll be running on in the campaign, and it’s doubtful that anyone will have his experience on the ladder.
However, one place where he is inexperienced is in actually running for office, which will undoubtedly manifest itself at some point in this campaign. He’s been extremely low-key in terms of exposing himself to the media so far, and that reluctance to engage with reporters has already left him vulnerable in his explanation about a report that he had two homestead exemptions for homes in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. While he’s explained that the issue was a result of a problem with the city government of Washington, D.C., a full-blown statement about how it happened would probably put the issue to rest.
Meanwhile, Lynn will continue to do outreach and work for the seat. The others? They’ll apparently wait until Crist decides his next career move. Observers say that with his high name recognition, the former governor can wait much longer than any other candidate to declare his candidacy.
“It’s really late already,” Welch tells Creative Loafing’s Kate Bradshaw. “If you’re running, folks should already be out there fundraising…”
Well, one already is.