Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Reasons Baker should run, or not

Very soon we will know whether Republican former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is running for Congress to succeed David Jolly. Hizzoner hasn't asked for our advice, but that won't stop us from giving it.

Mayor Baker, here are three reasons you should run, and two reasons you should not.

First, why you should run.

1. You're the GOP's only hope.

Yes, incumbent Jolly and many others have declared Congressional District 13 in south Pinellas County unwinnable by any Republican. The district was redrawn to heavily favor a Democrat: Barack Obama in 2012 won this district by a whopping 8 percentage points; Charlie Crist, your likely opponent in November, lost the 2014 governor's race against Rick Scott by 1 point statewide, but he won this district by 8.

But a big reason why the district is much more Democratic than before is because it now includes predominantly African-American neighborhoods in St. Petersburg — precincts you won overwhelmingly in your 2001 and 2005 elections.

Your contacts and record of accomplishment in Midtown St. Petersburg mean you can peel off African-American votes out of reach to any other Republican. Combine those with Republican support throughout the district and the many, many Democrats and independent voters you know are fed up with Crist's perpetual campaigning, and you've won.

Crist isn't even the certain Democratic nominee, facing a stronger-than-expected primary challenge from former Defense Department official Eric Lynn, whose prominent supporters include Mayor Rick Kriseman. Wouldn't it be fun to defeat a Kriseman-backed congressional candidate, a proxy battle of sorts between two very different mayors?

2. Even losing is winning.

Most political analysts have already written off this race as a sure-thing Democratic win, so a loss would not be damaging. More importantly, just running would ensure you build a network of fundraisers, donors and Republican allies across the state, and beyond, that will be essential when/if in 2018 you run for Florida attorney general or for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

And if you instead opt to challenge Kriseman for re-election in 2017, it can only help to rebuild your profile with a warmup congressional campaign.

3. You'd be a standout in Washington. Pulling off an upset election over Crist (or Lynn), would be a big deal.

On top of that, you would be about the only Republican in Washington with an expertise and passion for urban issues. That would make you a unique and important voice in Congress, far from just another freshman. House Speaker Paul Ryan would take care of you.

Now, why you shouldn't run.

1. It's hopeless.

Your modesty deficit probably makes it hard for you to grasp this, Rick, but you are not that big a deal. Ten years after your last campaign, you're less a political titan than a lobbyist for super rich, controversial businessman and philanthropist Bill Edwards.

In 2005, you easily and overwhelmingly beat a hopeless candidate, Ed Helm, in a nonpartisan municipal election where only 21 percent of city residents bothered to vote. A congressional race in a presidential election year is an entirely different ball game.

Not only would you face 10 times as many voters as you did in 2005, you would do so in a highly partisan atmosphere. You really think loyal Democrats who supported your mayoral campaigns are going to vote Hillary Clinton for president and also a Republican for Congress who (presumably) will defend most of the Washington GOP's anti-Obama agenda?

2. If you win, you'd have to serve in the U.S. House.

You are an executive who likes to get things done. Congress is where good intentions and good ideas go to die. You'd be miserable.

What is Rubio up to?

Quickly after dropping out of the presidential race March 15, the night of the Florida primary, Marco Rubio implied he would get behind Ted Cruz. But Rubio still hasn't endorsed Cruz while a number of other notable Republicans have.

The Cruz embrace is not for love, of course, but to build the Texan into something bigger than Donald Trump. Rubio could be just waiting, but it's lost on few that the two could clash again if Democrats retain the White House.

Is there a 2020 calculation at work? Rubio's office did not respond to questions about Cruz.

Rubio has appeared to help Cruz by seeking to retain the 172 delegates he picked up before leaving the race. If it comes down to a contested convention, Rubio could stymie the front-runner. Some tongues are wagging about Rubio also putting himself in contention, but that's House of Cards fiction, for now.

Whatever Rubio's motivations, the Florida senator is clearly working to keep himself in the conversation. Fans have launched an "only Marco" campaign asking him to unsuspend his campaign. And Rubio's Florida supporters are already openly talking about a 2020 run.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.

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