Rick Baker works Tallahassee’s Adams Street in advance of possible mayoral run

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Who was that tall Republican who burnished a reputation during the aughts for his strong conservative leadership walking the streets of Tallahassee on Monday? Jeb Bush? No, it was former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who was SPOTTED meeting with several state leaders and capitol insiders to — we hear — lay the groundwork for a mayoral run later this year.

Baker, the president of the Edwards Group who is currently leading the effort to win a May 2 referendum that would allow for the expansion of Al Lang Stadium as part of an effort to entice a Major League Soccer team, was seen having dinner at Shula’s 347 Grill with future Senate President Bill Galvano, Sen. Jeff Brandes and his chief aide Chris Spencer, and USF Vice President Helen Levine.

We’re told Baker also met with several prominent Tallahassee lobbyists as part of an effort coordinated by Brandes to connect him with top Republican fundraisers in the event Baker decides to run for Mayor. On Baker’s call sheet were Brad Burleson and Chris Dorworth of Ballard Partners and Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting.

Baker also made appearances at political watering holes, Clyde’s and the Governors Club.

Baker running for a third term as Mayor of the Sunshine City has dominated local political conversations for more than a year. Polling consistently shows that if Baker were to run again, he would begin his challenge to incumbent Rick Kriseman with a modest, but definite, lead.

The most recent survey from St. Pete Polls did not ballot test Baker vs. Kriseman but it did ask about each man’s favorability rating. Only residents who have voted in a city election held during the last four years were polled.

Kriseman has a plus-13 favorability rating of 48 to 35 percent favorable to unfavorable. Meanwhile, Baker’s favorability rating soars at 60 to 23 percent favorable to unfavorable.

Despite these favorable poll numbers — or, perhaps, in the face of them — Kriseman is taking a possible challenge from Baker very seriously. He continues to raise money hand-over-fist. He’s also laying out a narrative that creates a clear contrast between him and Baker.

“I’m likely to face my own challenge this year,” Kriseman told a gathering of statewide Democrats over the weekend, “from a former mayor who campaigned for John McCain and called Sarah Palin ‘a great pick for Vice-President.’”

“He then served as campaign manager for Herman Cain’s (Florida) campaign and also served as Mitt Romney’s advisor on urban policy, and we all know how well Mitt did in urban areas,” the Mayor continued, before acknowledging that it’s not a given that he’ll ride easily to re-election.

“Regardless of that, I may have my work cut out for me,” he acknowledged. “I will need your support.”

Reporting from Mitch Perry contributed to this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.