ST. PETERSBURG — Former Maryland governor and former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley came to the Sunshine City with a simple message:
Re-electing Mayor Rick Kriseman wasn’t just a local issue. It’s part of a national rebuild of a Democratic Party left reeling by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.
"Those of us who are Democrats are starting to act like a party again," O’Malley said at a Monday campaign event.
"I don’t know how we ever got away from the truth that mayors matter. I think what you’re seeing in our country is a Democratic Party that is regenerating in a much more distributed way."
O’Malley was the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats who have endorsed or stumped for Kriseman in the final days of his tight re-election battle against former Mayor Rick Baker.
Kriseman has made this nonpartisan race very partisan by repeatedly tying his opponent, Baker, a longtime Republican, to Trump and the national GOP.
Partisanship has helped the Kriseman campaign in other ways: he’s received support from Democratic politicians and Democratic dollars, raising more than $1 million.
Former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Kriseman last week. Former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro was in town Friday. Former Congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham stumped for Kriseman last week.
Former President Barack Obama’s endorsement days before the Aug. 29 primary was widely credited with helping push Kriseman to a narrow victory over Baker. Closer to home, Congressman Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, has been a frequent partner of the mayor on the campaign trail.
The Florida Democratic Party has run several television ads on Kriseman’s behalf and currently has three staffers on hand to help get out the vote efforts. Overall, the campaign has doubled its campaign staff to at least 13 in the past month, said campaign manager Jacob Smith.
Kriseman said the state and national parties see something in him worth defending.
"That’s why you see the governor and those folks here speaking on my behalf because we share common beliefs and values," the mayor said. "They’re supporting me because what I’ve been able to do in St. Pete and for the future of St. Pete."
The Baker campaign said all those Democrats are showing up because the mayor’s re-election campaign is in trouble.
"Kriseman’s so radioactive he has to import politicians from out of state to stand with him," said Baker campaign manager Nick Hansen. "We’re focused on earning the support and votes of the residents of St. Petersburg."
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O’Malley and Kriseman aren’t close. Still, the former Baltimore mayor had Kriseman’s talking points down cold. O’Malley repeatedly mentioned Baker’s stance on climate change and his refusal to denounce Trump.
"That’s a big divider with a lot of our candidates compared to their opponents," O’Malley said. "Kriseman believes climate change is real and he’s no supporter of Donald Trump. Those are two pretty distinguishing features between him and his opponent."
Baker has said he believes in the science of climate change and acknowledges humans have played a role in changing the climate — but he doesn’t know how much of a role. However, the scientific consensus is that humans are warming the planet, and Kriseman has accused Baker of being a climate change denialist.
As for Trump, Baker has never voiced support for the president but neither has he condemned Trump by name. Baker has also repeatedly refused to say whether he voted for the president.
But partisanship has helped Baker in one important way: he has tapped top Pinellas GOP fundraisers to help him out-raise Kriseman with more than $1.4 million.
That may be all the support the GOP can lend to Baker. Bringing in state or national Republicans to help campaign on his behalf could end up backfiring on Baker in a Democratic city. Instead, Baker has relied on his record as mayor from 2001-10 and his relationships in the black community while blasting Kriseman’s four years in office.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to keep a political celebrity around. During O’Malley’s Monday appearance at Kriseman’s headquarters in the Euclid-St. Paul neighborhood, the mayor’s campaign staffers and supporters lined up to take selfies with the man who ended his presidential campaign after finishing a distant third to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucuses.
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] Follow @CharlieFrago.