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  1. Florida Politics

Will Crist run? Pinellas politicos want to know

Charlie Crist says he has received advice and suggestions on making a bid for the U.S. House.
Charlie Crist says he has received advice and suggestions on making a bid for the U.S. House.
Published Jul. 11, 2015

Will he or won't he?

Pinellas County's political class was gripped with that question Friday as speculation swirled that former governor and hometown favorite son Charlie Crist would enter a suddenly wide-open 13th Congressional District Democratic primary.

A day after the Florida Supreme Court shredded the state's congressional maps, directing state lawmakers to redraw the boundaries of Pinellas County's own 13th district and seven others statewide, Crist might just have found the reset button for his political career.

After a bruising loss to Gov. Rick Scott last year, which followed a defeat for a Senate seat at the hands of Marco Rubio in 2010, Crist supporters say he couldn't have conjured a better political redemption than a congressional district redrawn to include his downtown St. Petersburg condo. If lawmakers lump in a huge chunk of overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhoods on the city's south side, it would be too much to resist, politicos said Friday.

Those neighborhoods provided many of the votes that gave Crist his 52-41 percent victory over Scott in Pinellas.

"If the Florida Legislature does what the Florida Supreme Court asked them to do, then this would make all the sense in the world for Charlie Crist," said Kevin Cate, a longtime adviser. "He loves the 'Burg."

Alex Sink, the state's former chief financial officer who ran unsuccessfully for the district last year, ruled out running again. But she said Crist was "a perfect candidate" for Democrats.

"It's his hometown," Sink said. "He lives in St. Pete, he knows the ways of Washington, and he'd be a terrific representative."

Crist didn't give much away on Friday but did tell the Tampa Bay Times that he was getting plenty of advice.

"I have received a lot of encouragement, phone calls," Crist said. "It concerns my hometown. I will admit to missing public service."

One person that Crist talked with on Friday was Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who is also eyeing the race.

For Welch, it's simple. If his longtime political ally gets in, he doesn't.

"If Charlie were to run, he'd have my support," Welch said.

Prominent Pinellas politician, state Rep. Dwight Dudley said a Crist run would be a big factor in his own political equation.

"Obviously that would be a big consideration," Dudley said. "But it's not a definitive thing for me if Crist runs or doesn't run."

Perhaps to scuttle the speculation, Eric Lynn, the lone Democrat who has announced, on Friday released a list of Pinellas Democratic club leaders who had endorsed him. He's already raised more than $400,000 in contributions.

If Crist waits until the boundaries are decided this fall, that gives Lynn more time to raise money and gain momentum, his advisers said.

"The basic dynamics of this race are going to likely remain the same until people see what the lines are," said Bill Burton, a Lynn adviser.

Former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern is on vacation and wasn't immediately available. Mulhern has said she is planning to move to St. Petersburg and run for the congressional seat, but told the Times last week that she'll use her vacation to weigh her political options.

For Welch, the entrance of a Crist is a game changer.

"It definitely would change the calculus. I think he'd be a great candidate."

Times correspondent William March contributed to this story. Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.