Pinellas dominoes could fall if Charlie Crist runs for governor

Talk is picking up about Democrats and Republicans who may run to replace Crist in congress.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. There's continuing speculation he is considering a run for governor in 2022.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. There's continuing speculation he is considering a run for governor in 2022. [ SUSAN WALSH | AP ]
Published April 30, 2021|Updated April 30, 2021

As U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist edges closer to running for governor in 2022, talk is picking up about Democrats and Republicans who may run to replace him, and the falling political dominoes that might result as some of those candidates leave offices they now hold.

On the Democratic side, speculation on Crist’s congressional seat focuses on state Rep. Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn, both of whom are considered almost certain to run — though neither will say so outright, partly out of deference to Crist.

A number of others are also mentioned, including state Rep. Michele Rayner and even Mayor Rick Kriseman.

On the GOP side, it appears likely there will be a repeat of the 2020 primary contest between Amanda Makki and Anna Paulina Luna, whether Crist stays or goes. In interviews, neither committed to running but both sounded positive about the prospect.

And as usual when any high-profile political office in Pinellas comes open, former Mayor Rick Baker is also mentioned as a possibility. Baker is already a subject of speculation about another race, for the state Senate seat being vacated by term-limited Jeff Brandes.

In 2020, Makki appeared headed for the GOP nomination to challenge Crist until Luna got support from the Trump wing of the party, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. Luna won with 36 percent in a five-way field, then surprised some by coming within six points of Crist in the general election.

Amanda Makki

A key question is whether the Republican Legislature, which will draw new district maps next year, is able to change the district to make it more Republican-friendly.

Luna said her decision will depend partly on her husband’s commitment to a second run, but, “We’re excited to see what the district looks like.”

Previewing a primary tactic, Makki emphasized electability, a veiled criticism of Luna, who’s widely perceived as an ally of both Trump and Gaetz.

“I believe I’m the only conservative who can win in this district,” Makki said.

Crist is to be one of two featured speakers Saturday night at a Hillsborough County Democratic Party fundraiser, along with state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, another potential candidate for governor.

Prior to the event, Crist is scheduled to appear at a small reception for Democratic donors, organized by Crist backer Peggy Land of Tampa and her son and daughter-in-law, Talbot and Silvia Land.

If Diamond ran for congress instead of re-election to his state House seat, it could disrupt Democrats’ legislative campaign plans for next year. He’s currently the designated incoming House Democratic leader and would be in charge of planning and directing the Democrats’ 2022 statewide House campaign strategy if he remains in the state House.

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Ben Diamond
Ben Diamond

Diamond said this week it’s “premature” to discuss his political plans while the Legislature is in session — “I’m up to my eyeballs with the last week of session and incredibly controversial bills still up in the air,” he said. “If Charlie Crist announces his intentions to run for a different seat, I will certainly reevaluate my options.”

Lynn, a former congressional aide and Obama administration appointee, lost to Diamond in the 2016 primary for the state House seat. If Crist vacates the congressional seat, he said, he’ll “take a serious look at it.”

Insiders are also chatting about who might seek to replace Diamond or Rayner in their legislative seats. Speculation includes City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman in Rayner’s district and environmentalist Lindsay Cross, who lost to Brandes in 2018, in Diamond’s.

Luna threatens lawsuit against “big tech”

Luna, who clashed repeatedly with Twitter during her 2020 race, mentioned in an interview this week that she plans a lawsuit against “big tech.”

Congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna in 2020.
Congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna in 2020. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

“Watch for a big announcement next week,” she said.

She threatened to sue Twitter last year because it declined to give her account “blue check” confirmation usually given to political candidates.

Her campaign said her account was briefly shut down and she was forced to delete a tweet following the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, which said in part, “I will not bend the knee to the socialist agenda to ban firearms. … Stop making El Paso political.”

Her campaign said her account was also flagged during her 2020 campaign over a photo of her wearing Special Forces-style tactical gear and carrying an assault rifle. Twitter wouldn’t confirm the reasons for its actions to the Times last year.

Franklin’s fundraising steady

A vote by Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, to overturn the presidential election results in two states last year does not appear to have significantly harmed his fundraising.

Franklin raised $117,867 in the first three months of 2021, according to campaign fundraising reports.

Scott Franklin
Scott Franklin

By comparison, he raised $205,906 in the first two quarters of 2020, including three and a half months as a declared candidate.

Franklin voted Jan. 6 in favor of objections to certifying the Electoral College votes for President Joe Biden from Arizona and Pennsylvania, the only House member whose district includes Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas counties to do so.