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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A tough Democratic state House primary erupts in Pinellas

UPDATE: Eric Lynn is dropping out of his congressional race to succeed David Jolly and instead will run for state House, in the Democratic-leaning district to be vacated by Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. He faces a primary challenge from St. Petersburg attorney Ben Diamond.

“After Rep. Dwight Dudley’s surprise decision not to seek reelection in my home district, many community members asked me to run for State House District 68 to carry on the legacy of great Pinellas leaders like Speaker Peter Wallace, Commissioner Charlie Justice and Rep. Dudley," Lynn said in a statement. "We know that the Republicans will run a candidate that does not share our St. Petersburg values, so we need a strong candidate who can keep this seat Democratic. I look forward to building my campaign from the bottom up and advancing policies that are important to this community. In the State House, I will work hard to improve education - by making it equal for all children; to improve healthcare - by expanding Medicaid in Florida; and to honor and protect our veterans. " 

“Today begins a fresh start in a new race with new opportunities. I am proud of the excellent campaign we ran for Congressional District 13 here in Pinellas County, which is projected to elect our first Democratic Congressman in over 50 years," Lynn said. "With my decision to run for State House, Charlie Crist and I will forego spending almost a million dollars each against each other in a Democratic primary. I am honored to help ensure that both State House District 68 and Congressional District 13 elect strong Democrats who will fight for the good of the community and the values that we share.” 

Peter Wallace said in a statement:  “I am proud to endorse Eric Lynn for District 68 because I know he has the values and drive that it takes to succeed in the Legislature. As a St. Petersburg native, he understands this community well, he will serve this community well, and I am confident that he will be a tireless champion for the people of Pinellas County in Tallahassee.”


And here's the background we wrote earlier today:

Democratic state Rep. Dwight Dudley six days ago surprised a ton of people by announcing that he would not seek reelection to his Democratic-leaning south Pinellas state House seat. Two things happened quickly:

1. St Pete attorney, Democratic fundraiser, and former Alex Sink aide Ben Diamond announced his candidacy to succeed Dudley, and Democrats including Sink, state Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant, and incoming House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa threw their support behind Diamond.

2. Eric Lynn, the former Obama administration official running a stronger than expected campaign for Congress against heavy favorite Charlie Crist, went underground.

Lynn also lives in that state House District (68), and presumably would have a lot easier time winning an open state House seat than a congressional seat against a universally known former governor. After Dudley's retirement announcement, Lynn did not return multiple phone calls and messages asking if he is ruling out or considering switching to the state House race. More than a year since he began campaigning full-time for congress, Lynn clearly has a lot to think about.

It is not a simple calculation. 

Ben Diamond - the grandson of the late U.S. Rep. Dante Fascell, who represented Miami-Dade from 1955 to 1993 - has written checks or raised money for many Democratic candidates and has lot of friends among Democratic elites. His endorsements for state House include Bob Graham, Pinellas Democratic Chairwoman Susan McGrath and Crist for congress supporters including county commissioners Charlie Justice and  Ken Welch and city council members Karl Nurse, Darden Rice, and Jim Kennedy. The buzz is Diamond's first fundraising report will be very strong when it comes out soon.

That said, Diamond, 37, is little known to rank and file voters in this House district, and may not have the financial advantage some anticipate. That's because Lynn, also 37, had $625,000 in his congressional campaign account as of March 31. The money  can't be shifted directly to a state campaign account, but it could be shifted directly to a political committee helping elect Lynn to the state House.

Some Democratic bigs would much rather see Lynn take aim at Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, in a neighboring swing district (69), that Barack Obama carried twice. 

Lynn, married with children 2 and 4, would have to move into that district. He also would have to consider whether he has a better shot at beating a popular incumbent, Peters, with the Jack Latvala machine behind her, or a little known party insider in a Democratic primary where he currently lives. Or whether he is better off staying put and continuing his underdog campaign against Charlie Crist.

Suffice it to say there is a lot of angst going on in Democratic political circles these days surrounding the political futures of Eric Lynn and Ben Diamond.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 1:59pm]


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