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Michele Rayner drops out of Pinellas congressional race, runs for state House

Florida’s redrawn district maps gave the Pinellas congressional seat a Republican advantage, splitting St. Petersburg in two.
State Rep. Michele Rayner of St. Petersburg has dropped out of the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District and will run for reelection to her state House seat.
State Rep. Michele Rayner of St. Petersburg has dropped out of the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District and will run for reelection to her state House seat. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2020) ]
Published May 16|Updated May 18

Rep. Michele Rayner, a St. Petersburg Democrat, announced on Monday that she is ending her run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District and instead running for reelection to the Florida House.

Rayner’s decision to drop out of the congressional race comes just a few days after her colleague in the state House, Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said he’d suspend his congressional campaign.

With Rayner and Diamond out of the field, Eric Lynn, a national security consultant, is the only Democrat who has raised money in the race for Pinellas’ open seat, to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.

“This was not a decision I made (lightly),” Rayner said in a statement. “It’s been the honor of a lifetime to campaign and walk alongside the people of Pinellas County for what I know they deserve — real results from their leaders and someone who will fight for them.”

When Rayner jumped into the race for Congress, the boundaries of Florida’s 13th district were unknown. But the approved maps, drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, take the 13th district from South Pinellas and expand it up to the Pasco County line. It splits St. Petersburg in two, dividing the city and its Democratic voters.

As a result, Florida’s 13th district becomes redder, and the 14th district, currently held by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, becomes more blue.

After the maps were approved, Rayner announced that she would stay in the race for Congress despite the new lines. But after running the numbers, Rayner said she found the district was “gerrymandered in a way we didn’t even realize.”

“You can’t have a fair and free election in Pinellas County with this particular map,” she said.

After speaking with her family and constituents, Rayner decided to seek reelection in state House District 62. The new configuration of that district includes south St. Petersburg and jumps the bay to East Hillsborough County. Under its old configuration, Rayner represented parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Former state Rep. Wengay Newton and Trevor Mallory, president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, are filed to run as Democrats for the state House seat, which had seemingly been left open with Rayner’s congressional run.

Rayner said she spoke with the candidates about her decision. In a statement Monday afternoon, Mallory announced he’d be stepping out of the race in support of Rayner. Newton could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rayner deferred when asked about endorsements, and said she’s focused on her reelection campaign and rolling out a voter registration program in Pinellas. She said that work will be a help to any Democrat in the county.

In Florida’s 13th Congressional District, the Republicans in the race are: veteran Anna Paulina Luna, attorney Kevin Hayslett, Republican strategist Amanda Makki, nonprofit founder Audrey Henson, business owner Christine Quinn, former University of South Florida student body president Moneer Kheireddine and Jim Davis of Wimauma.

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Frank Craft, a business owner, is running as a Libertarian. Christian Hotchkiss, a Democrat, is registered to run but has not brought in any fundraising and is also filed to run for a state House seat.

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