Ben Diamond suspends bid for Pinellas congressional seat, citing DeSantis map

Diamond was considered a strong contender for the Democratic nomination, but the new congressional map would make the district harder for a Democrat to win.
State Rep. Ben Diamond announced he is dropping his bid for Congressional District 13.
State Rep. Ben Diamond announced he is dropping his bid for Congressional District 13. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published May 12, 2022|Updated May 12, 2022

State Rep. Ben Diamond is suspending his campaign for the 13th Congressional District in Pinellas County.

The Democratic St. Petersburg politician cited the new congressional map drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and passed by the Republican-held Legislature as the reason for his decision. That map makes a Democratic win in the traditionally competitive 13th District more difficult, altering the district from one that voted for President Joe Biden by a margin of 4 percentage points to a place that would have gone to Donald Trump by about 6 points in 2020.

Meanwhile, the 14th District, currently contained entirely within Hillsborough County, would stretch across Tampa Bay to pack in more Democrats, including St. Petersburg residents who live east of 34th Street.

Related: DeSantis congressional map splits St. Petersburg, reduces Tampa Bay competition

“For our community in Pinellas, particularly in St. Petersburg, it splits our city in two. It weakens our voice in Washington. St. Pete City Hall, the pier, the Trop, the Tampa Bay Times building, my house, are all now in the (14th) District,” Diamond said. “In light of these circumstances, I’ve decided to suspend my campaign and turn my attention to doing everything I can as a lawyer to help with this legal battle now for Fair Districts.”

Fair Districts are amendments passed by voters and added to the Florida Constitution that prohibit political gerrymanders in the state and the dilution of minority voting power. DeSantis has said parts of Fair Districts violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under the law. Voting rights groups have filed lawsuits challenging DeSantis’ map, and the ultimate decision will likely be made by the Florida Supreme Court, which has become more conservative, with three current DeSantis appointees, or could also be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Related: Florida judge says DeSantis congressional map unconstitutional, says he'll block it

“It should be (voters’) choice. It shouldn’t be the Tallahassee politicians pre-determining the outcome and I do think that’s what the governor and the Legislature did here. They rigged a number of these seats,” Diamond said, calling it an “illegal gerrymander.”

“St. Pete is the fifth-largest city in Florida .... we are one community here and we deserve to have one strong voice represent us.”

Diamond said he doesn’t expect any legal changes to the map to happen in time for this year’s election. He said he has not yet decided if he will endorse either former Obama adviser Eric Lynn or state Rep. Michele Rayner for the seat, but will definitely support the Democratic nominee.

But once the map is “fixed,” he said, “I fully intend to resume my campaign to represent us in Washington,” which possibly means a run in 2024.

In a statement, Lynn thanked Diamond for his service in the Legislature and said he will continue his campaign “to keep this seat blue and fighting to bring our shared Pinellas County values to Washington.”

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Diamond also confirmed he will not run for reelection in the state House despite dropping his congressional bid. He threw his support behind Lindsay Cross, an environmentalist running for his seat.

Diamond raised about $1.2 million for the race, the most of any Democratic candidate, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. After his expenses, Diamond had just under $790,000 on hand, most of which he said he intends to keep for a restart of his campaign in the future.