Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, widely viewed as the only Republican with a shot at winning the Pinellas congressional seat to be vacated by David Jolly, has decided against running.
"It's a tremendous honor to be considered and I have great respect for Congress, but I've concluded that I'm a better fit for an executive leadership position than a position in Congress," Baker, 59, who had been heavily recruited by Republican leaders in Washington, said Tuesday.
Legislators redrew the boundaries of Congressional District 13, making it overwhelmingly favorable to a Democrat and prompting Jolly to run for the U.S. Senate rather than seek another term. President Barack Obama won that south Pinellas area by 8 percentage points in 2012.
Baker, who overwhelmingly won heavily Democratic and African-American areas of St. Petersburg as mayor, said he was confident he would have won. Ultimately, though, he felt in his gut the job wasn't right for him and said he made up his mind in the past 24 hours.
"I looked at it very seriously," said Baker, who was recruited personally by House Speaker Paul Ryan. "I put a lot of time into it, a lot of study, prayed about it."
The front-runner for the Democratic nomination is former Gov. Charlie Crist, and a Crist versus Baker race would have been one of the most watched in the country. Crist still faces a stronger-than-expected primary challenge from former Defense Department official Eric Lynn, and the Democratic nominee will likely face a low-profile Republican in the general election. Republicans who have filed to run are Mark Bircher, Paul DeCailly, Will Leverson and Sharon Russ.
"Rick Baker is a good man, friend, and an influential part of our community here in St. Pete. I wish him nothing but continued success," Crist said in a statement.
Since leaving office in 2010, Baker has been courted for several high-profile offices, including governor. He currently works for St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards as president of the Edwards Group, and his announcement Tuesday is likely to fuel speculation that he could run for another mayoral term next year against Rick Kriseman, or set his sights on running for attorney general or even governor in 2018.
"Every time I speculate, I start drawing news, so I'm not going to speculate about that," Baker said.
Lynn wasted little time emailing potential donors with news that Baker would not run.
"Now that Mayor Baker is out, it's clear this election will be decided in the primary," he wrote. "This is a huge opportunity for us to send a lifelong Democrat who shares our values to Congress. There is no reason to settle as Pinellas will be represented by a Democrat in Congress for the first time in over 60 years. I need your help to make that happen."
Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.