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Rick Baker expected to announce soon whether he’s in or out in CD 13 contest

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Rick Baker is still thinking about entering the CD 13 race.

The former St. Petersburg Mayor said so last Saturday night at the Pinellas County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in St. Pete. When asked what his timetable was, Baker replied, “It’s gotta be soon.”

Conventional wisdom is that the newly configured district is no longer viable for a Republican after the Florida Supreme Court ordered the Legislature redraw it for violating the Fair Districts constitutional amendments passed in 2010.

The addition of South St. Pete made it more black and Democratic, and compelled GOP incumbent David Jolly to eschew a bid for re-election and instead make a run for the open U.S. Senate seat currently up for grabs.

Although former Obama Defense Department adviser Eric Lynn had already been campaigning for months on the Democratic side, he was big-footed by Charlie Crist last fall, who opted to engage back into politics when the newly drawn up district included his own residence.

A Public Policy Polling survey released last week showed Crist dominating Lynn, 71 percent to 11 percent.

Lynn dismissed the poll results on Wednesday, as did Democratic Party strategist Steve Schale to an extent.

The veteran operative has ties with both, having worked with Lynn on the Barack Obama campaign in 2007 and 2008, and was a top official in Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

“Obviously, we’ve all seen the polling recently,” Schale said, referring to the PPP survey. “I do think in the end Eric goes on TV and those polling numbers move quite a bit. I think it will be an interesting race when push comes to shove. I’m really glad I don’t have to choose.”

Last July, St. Pete Polls conducted a hypothetical Crist-Baker general election matchup, that showed an extremely close race, with Crist up 46 percent-42 percent (though the new district’s boundaries hadn’t been officially set at the time of that survey, pollster Matt Florell used the Florida Supreme Court’s instructions and surveyed voters that ultimately were included in CD 13).

Baker’s connection to the black community in South St. Pete has often been noted as making him a different type of Republican to run in the district.

What is unknown at this time is how a Donald Trump candidacy at the top of the ticket could affect the race.

Mark Bircher, the retired Marine Corps Reserve brigadier general who finished third in the three-person contest for the CD 13 seat in the 2014 special election, is the only declared Republican in the race at this point.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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