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Ben Diamond announces bid for Charlie Crist’s congressional seat

The announcement could be another blow for Democrats’ chances to make headway in the Florida House, where they’re badly outnumbered. Diamond was slated to be Minority Leader next year.
State Representative Ben Diamond announces he is running for congress outside the USF St. Petersburg Nelson Poynter Memorial Library Monday, May 10, 2021.
State Representative Ben Diamond announces he is running for congress outside the USF St. Petersburg Nelson Poynter Memorial Library Monday, May 10, 2021. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published May 10
Updated May 10

ST. PETERSBURG — Ben Diamond, a Democratic state representative with deep roots in the Tampa Bay area, announced Monday he’s running for Congress.

Diamond, 42, kicked off his campaign at an event at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus surrounded by elected officials, including Pinellas County commissioners and St. Petersburg city council members. The seat he’s running for is held by Democrat Charlie Crist, who last week launched another campaign for governor and won’t be seeking reelection.

“As an elected leader, I feel a responsibility to acknowledge this moment. I can’t sit idly by,” Diamond told the crowd. “I feel the responsibility to fight for policies that we believe are right and moral and just; that give voice for an approach that doesn’t put us against each other.”

State Representative Ben Diamond watches his daughter Vera Diamond, 3, play with the American flag before announcing he is running for congress outside the USF St. Petersburg Nelson Poynter Memorial Library Monday, May 10, 2021. Pictured with Diamond is his son Frank Diamond, 8. Right is his wife, Christina Diamond.
State Representative Ben Diamond watches his daughter Vera Diamond, 3, play with the American flag before announcing he is running for congress outside the USF St. Petersburg Nelson Poynter Memorial Library Monday, May 10, 2021. Pictured with Diamond is his son Frank Diamond, 8. Right is his wife, Christina Diamond. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

After graduating from Berkeley Prep, Yale University and the University of Florida College of Law, Diamond served as an aide to Alex Sink, Florida’s former chief financial officer and candidate for governor. In 2016, he scored a victory in a competitive Democratic primary for his current state House seat, which covers parts of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park. He’s now a legislator and attorney in St. Petersburg.

As a lawmaker, Diamond frequently spoke out against Republican-backed policies with which he disagreed — typically with a practiced, lawyerly cadence. His Tallahassee legacy is perhaps best reflected in his push to ready the state for climate change. In 2021, Republicans got behind the creation of a statewide sea-level rise and flooding resilience plan, which Diamond had long urged.

Diamond’s announcement looks to be yet another blow for Democrats’ chances to make headway in the Florida House, where they’re drastically outnumbered. Before running for the Congressional seat, Diamond was elected Democratic leader for the 2023-2024 sessions — meaning he would have been charged with helping Democrats win as many state House seats as possible out of the 120 up for grabs in 2022.

Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the chamber, 78-42. That figure could grow even more lopsided in 2022: Omari Hardy, a fiery progressive from Palm Beach County, is running in the Congressional District 20 special election to replace the late Alcee Hastings. So is Rep. Bobby DuBose, another member of Democratic House leadership.

When asked what voters should make of his decision to leave the state House at a moment when Democrats seem to be racking up loss after loss, Diamond said the opportunity to run for Congress was too good to pass up.

“This is just, as I said in my speech, an incredible opportunity to serve the place that I care very deeply about,” he said, noting that his grandfather, Dante Fascell, also served for decades as a Florida congressman.

It’s unclear what Florida’s 13th congressional district will look like after state lawmakers finish the once-per-decade process of redrawing districts using U.S. Census data.

But that uncertainty hasn’t stopped multiple candidates from entering the young race for Crist’s seat. Eric Lynn, a former national security official in President Barack Obama’s administration — whom Diamond defeated in the 2016 primary for state representative — announced his run last week. Michele Rayner, an attorney who in 2020 became the first openly queer Black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature, is also rumored to be considering a run. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman could also enter the race.

Even if the Congressional district’s boundaries remain the same, whoever wins the Democratic primary will have to face a general electorate that’s become less friendly to the left in recent years.

Anna Paulina Luna, the Republican who gave Crist a spirited race in 2020, has already announced her intention to claim the seat she lost last year by six points. Amanda Makki, whom Luna defeated in the 2020 GOP primary, could also run again.

Related: The evolution of Anna Paulina Luna, Republican candidate for Congress