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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House Speaker Paul Ryan drops by Sembler's pad — with an FHP escort

Ryan's ride awaits him outside Ovation on Wednesday

Tampa Bay Times -- Hanna Marcus

Ryan's ride awaits him outside Ovation on Wednesday

17

February

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday visited a St. Petersburg house, or condo tower rather, causing plenty of gawking downtown at the bevy of limousines and security provided by Florida Highway Patrol and the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Top GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife Betty live in the penthouse of Ovation tower at 180 Beach Dr. NE, where the vehicles were parked. The Wisconsin Republican was in St. Pete for a couple of fundraising events that will support Team Ryan, his new political organization, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Zack Roday, his press secretary, in an email to Bay Buzz. During his first few months as Speaker, Ryan has raked in millions of dollars, becoming the GOP's top fundraising draw, according to The Hill.

Ryan's visit had Beach Drive abuzz.

"I asked a policeman what was going on and he said 'It's Paul Ryan. He's at a meeting,'" said Kay Stroh, a tourist from Ohio who was nearby at the Wooden Rooster. She noted that both she and the new speaker both went to Miami of Ohio University.

Another diner at the restaurant saw former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker and U.S. Rep. David Jolly go into Ovation. Baker is widely considered the only Republican with any shot of winning Jolly's current Pinellas County Congressional seat, which was redrawn last year to heavily favor Democrats. Another Republican, Mark Bircher, is running for the seat, but he's considered a long shot compared to whoever wins the Democratic primary between former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Defense Department official Eric Lynn.

Could it be that a purpose for the meeting was to convince Baker, who won overwhelmingly Democratic African-American votes when he served as St. Petersburg's mayor from 2001-2010, to run for the seat? 

When asked if he was thinking about running for mayor again by the Times last month, Baker replied: "That is not on my radar screen right now."  But he did say that he was keeping the door open on a congressional run.

Perhaps he walked through that door after Ryan's visit.

Baker is now president of the Edwards Group, the development and entertainment company owned by Bill Edwards.

 

[Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2016 10:00am]

    

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