ST. PETERSBURG — With Charlie Crist planning to announce his candidacy for Congress today, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is making things interesting.
The Republican, who won two mayoral terms by drawing overwhelming support from Democrats, is seriously looking at running, too.
"I am intrigued by the idea," Baker said Monday evening. "A number of people I have great respect for have encouraged me to consider it and I will. I'll decide by early next year."
The newly redrawn south Pinellas County district is nearly impossible for any Republican to win, U.S. Rep. David Jolly told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club earlier this month, explaining why he opted to run for the U.S. Senate rather than another term in the House. President Barack Obama won the district as it's now drawn by nearly 8 percentage points in 2012 and Crist beat Republican Gov. Rick Scott by 15 points in that district.
"My only focus of consideration is whether this is the best way I can serve our community," said Baker, who works for businessman and philanthropist Bill Edwards.
Baker may be about the only Republican with a shot, having focused much of his energy as mayor on improving predominantly African-American neighborhoods that have been added to the district. He has strong ties and bipartisan allies throughout the district after serving as mayor from 2001 to 2010, winning re-election with 70 percent of the vote.
But Baker ran in nonpartisan elections, where this would be a highly partisan congressional race in a presidential election year when Democratic turnout tends to be highest.
Republican strategist Adam Goodman, who helped Baker win his St. Petersburg mayoral races, said normal partisan patterns could be out the window in a contest between Crist and Baker.
"In a race between a hometown kid and a hometown hero," Goodman said, "all bets are off."
Crist is scheduled to announce his candidacy at Childs Park in St. Petersburg at 10:30 a.m. today, followed by events at the War Veterans' Memorial Park in St. Petersburg at 11 a.m. and then in Clearwater at Pier 60 at 12:15 p.m. The Federal Election Commission website showed Monday night that Crist has formally opened a campaign account to start raising money.
Crist, a former Republican, must win a Democratic primary in which former Defense Department official Eric Lynn is already running and has raised more than $500,000. Lynn, making his first run for an elected office, has indicated he would not get out of the way for Crist, but he is likely to face pressure to drop out from party leaders in Washington eager to discourage expensive primaries.
Contact Adam Smith at email@example.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes