What’s likely be one of the Tampa Bay area’s most competitive 2024 legislative races cranked up last week when Republican St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari filed to challenge Democratic state Rep. Lindsay Cross.
Both expressed confidence in the outcome.
“I’m confident I can win this race,” said Montanari. “I wouldn’t get in it if I weren’t.”
“I’m confident in my ability to hold onto the seat and continuing to represent the people of District 60,” said Cross. “I’m going to put in the work, fundraising and knocking on doors, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Montanari’s council term extends through January 2025. If elected, he would miss only a few months during the end of 2024, a time when the council typically does little work, he said.
The candidates’ electoral histories and district makeup foreshadow a potentially tight race.
Cross, an environmental scientist, was one of the few bright spots for local Democrats in 2022, winning by 8 points in the eastern Pinellas district where Democrats have a registration advantage of 37-31 percent.
Montanari, a retired airline and Air Force pilot, has won two City Council elections, in 2015 and 2019, likely giving him more name recognition than Cross’s 2022 opponent Audrey Henson.
In 2019 he was backed by Democratic fellow council members and won his council district, which is entirely contained within the state House district, with 70 percent despite attempts by his opponent to portray him as a right-wing Trump backer. He won citywide 53-47 percent.
The 2024 race will be more partisan than those non-partisan races, possibly benefitting Cross, but Montanari is likely to have heavy financial support from the state Republican Party, whose financial resources far outweigh Democrats’.
The financial battle has already begun.
Since filing in December, Cross has raised $107,914 in her campaign and can benefit from an independent committee that has about $26,900 in cash.
Montanari hasn’t yet filed a campaign finance report but his independent committee, Friends of Ed Montanari, has about $46,049 in cash, boosted by a $30,000 contribution from high-level local Republican political donor Joseph C. White.
Cross said the race will focus on “the unaffordability crisis that we have” in insurance and housing costs and noted her 20 years of experience in water quality, flooding and resilience issues, which matter to St Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Lealman.
“The Republicans have been in the majority and now the supermajority for decades and the problem has only gotten worse,” she said of the property insurance crisis.
Montanari said rising costs stem from “Washington-caused inflation,” and emphasized his history of working across the aisle.
He said he’s been “a strong advocate for housing affordability and solving the property insurance crisis. We need a leader who is willing to take a stand against Big Insurance and demand lower rates.”